No Practice Needed, PT Dragon Boat Wins

By Purnell T. Cropper | June 15, 2010

By Dana Davies, Team USA Dragon Boater and Arcadia’s Vice President for Enrollment Management

The first-year PT students happily took me up on my offer, and under the coordination of “Capt’n Kate” Johnston, came to paddle in the Philadelphia Independence Dragon Boat Regatta on Saturday, June 5.

Admittedly, when I arrived that morning I had my doubts as to how they’d do. I’d offered to sponsor a team with one major caveat—that we call the team “Arcadia University.” Even though the event benefits my dragon boat team (as well as a local veterans group and PALS), my thought was to get a little publicity for the University. Fortunately, Becky Craik took me up on it and her PT students did the rest. They showed up on race day, along with about 70 other teams, and had a blast, which was all that was needed.

My doubts? Having not formally met any of these students, I had some concerns as to how they’d do.  

I also found as the pre-race weeks wore on, that there was little likelihood of them getting to any of the three practices that were scheduled and are included in each boat fee. During the dates available, clinicals were taking place, and some students were home for their break.

On Saturday when I arrived, there they all sat in our little tent. I introduced myself and asked how many of them had been paddling with the “Meniscus Tearers,” the team the PT crew entered the year before. The answer came back—1! Rob had paddled for a few years in this festival.

We walked together down to the marshalling area, resplendent in our new bright yellow T-shirts, graced with bright red hand-dyed Viking helmets. (This is an ancient Chinese sport, so um, yea, this did not increase my confidence in how my new team was going to do.)

We stretched a bit, chatted. I then hastily lined everyone up by size. Rob and I sat stroke. I chose Kristina to sit as our drummer.

To be honest, I thought we might capsize before we got to the starting line. A dragon boat is a heavy thing—typically between 600 to 900 pounds, depending on the type and make—and it has low gunwales and no keel. Hard to tip, but by no means impossible. If paddlers paddle at different rates, with different entry and exit timing, the boat tends to rock side to side—a lot.

We paddled a bit, and headed to the start line. We had talked about our start, the stroke, and timing, but these folks had never paddled before. Sit ready, attention—go! Off we went, not a terrible start, paddling down the 500-meter course. The boat felt heavy, but I realized that with 12 large young guys on a bright sunny morning, we may not do too badly after all. We came in first at 2:51.

Back to the tent, where we soon discovered that we beat my husband’s team by 6 seconds. Huge whoop of victory from the crew. Small victories in a friendly competition with my better half. Arcadia’s intrepid crew had no practice, no practice, whereas my husband has been in every race for four years now with his team, a bunch of colleagues from White and Williams, and they’d gotten out to three practices. I tried not to gloat. Failed, but I tried, honest.

Semi-finals, our time put us in “C” division. The sun is high in the sky, and it’s hot. We’ve had lunch. I advised they stay out of the sun, drink water, eat lightly. Some did. Off we head to the marshalling area for our race at 1:34 p.m. This time our intrepid crew has approached a bonnie couple of women two tents down who indicated they could round out our crew. Turns out their heat is too near our time on the water. I head out and find two former teammates from one of the women’s teams in Philly, and we’ve got our first ringers.

Marshall, life jackets, paddles, into the boat. Less rocking this time—and we’ve got the best steerer in the world—I’m not kidding. Billy steers for our USA team, and is compact, wiry, 145 pounds and the best strategist on the water. He calls the race from the back of the boat, and we edge out another amateur team with a good steerer at the helm, one of the Team USA paddlers.

We squeeze out the best time against the other four boats in the heat, coming in at 2:41—10 seconds better than our first time. Back in the tent I correct my instruction to the Arcadia crew about staying out of the sun and drinking water. My husband’s team comes in at 2:53. I’m steering clear of his tent.

Finals roll around a couple of hours later, we’re in “C” division finals. We roll up to marshalling, sun beaten, dazed, and a bit lazy. Again we dominate. We come in at 2:35, improving our time and best among 8 boats in the division. This time I had four ringers in the boat—again all women from other Philly teams. Not as tight a finish as the second race, like the first we had open water between us and the next boat. Lots of celebration!

All of which leads me to wonder, as Alan Iverson famously asked once when a member of Larry Brown’s 76er’s, “Practice, who needs practice?”

The PT students are the best. Enthusiastic, cooperative, fun-loving and strong. I’m so looking forward to next year…. Special thanks to all of them and to Kate for coordinating, Kristina for drumming and to Rob for being the calm experienced paddler that he is.

It was a total blast!