Ask five different people what they get out of being part of the MOV'n Dragons and you'll get five different responses. But there are common threads: laughter, exercise, support, friendship and a sense of accomplishment to name a few.
Entering its sixth season on the water, the Mid-Ohio Valley's dragon boat team was 50-some members strong last year. This season looks just as promising - in the number of people involved, their options for paddling and the level of competitions some will undertake.
"We're reaching out to people who want to try it, to just come and see what dragon boating is all about," said Janet Chase, now in her fourth year as the group's president. "You can be as involved as you want to be. It's great exercise, and we have a lot of fun."
MITCH CASEY Special to the Times
The team enjoys time on the water early one foggy Saturday morning.
The team was the vision of the late Gretchen Feldmaier, a Warren High School and Washington State Community College English teacher who had heard how dragon boating was helping some women recover from breast cancer surgery. Feldmaier had experienced breast cancer herself, and when she learned in 2005 that her cancer was terminal, she wanted to leave a legacy of hope.
Feldmaier shared her idea for a dragon boat team in the Mid-Ohio Valley with a few close friends, and they worked to make it happen. Memorial contributions in Feldmaier's name helped the team purchase its boat, Gretchen's Phoenix, which plies the Muskingum and Ohio rivers from spring through fall.
"On her deathbed, I told Gretchen, 'I would be honored to be in your boat,'" said Chase, who worked with Feldmaier at Warren High. "She was just a wonderful person - full of spunk and spirit. She'd be proud of this team."
To get involved
People interested in giving dragon boating a try can attend a new member orientation at 9:30 a.m. May 12, at the Marietta College Boathouse. The paddling season continues until October.
For information on the team, e-mail email@example.com, call 373-5316 or visit www.movndragons.org.
Recreational paddling is available at 5:45 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. Saturdays. Competitive practices are at 5:45 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 7:45 a.m. Saturdays.
The group welcomes cancer survivors and supporters, women and men, people of all ages and fitness levels. There are opportunities for strenuous practices and in- and out-of-state competitions as well as easier, recreational outings.
Linda Lewis, who has coached the team since 2009, said she hopes to see both the competitive and recreational aspects of the team expand. And she - like all members - wants to grow the group's potential to inspire breast cancer survivors to become "thrivers."
"It's great to see people discover they can do this. They can have fun and do more than they thought they could," Lewis said. "It's not just about the competition. A lot of it is encouragement in leading a healthy life. It's just fun to be out there on the river."
And for those who want a challenging workout, Lewis provides it (as anyone who's heard her coach from her steersperson position in the back of the boat can attest).
Last year, the team competed in Cleveland; Covington, Ky.; and Richmond, Va. This year's first competition is May 28 at the Columbus Asian Festival's debut dragon boat race, and other races are under consideration. Spots in a competition boat are first-come, first-serve, with 22 paddlers and a drummer needed to fill Gretchen's Phoenix.
Team members participate in community events as well. One coming soon is the Memorial Health Foundation's Ninth Annual Friends & Trends Fashion Show, set for 5 p.m. May 17 at Marietta College's Fenton Court. The show, which benefits those who rely on the Strecker Cancer Center, celebrates survivorship. Its theme this year revolves around the Chinese calendar's Year of the Dragon and the MOV'n Dragons.
Theresa Fitzgerald is a lifelong athlete and breast cancer thriver who has been involved with the team from the start. She has advice for people thinking they might want to join.
"Just come. There's no commitment. Just try. If you get tired, hug your paddle," she said, then casually added, "Let me know when you're coming, and I'll be there."
Just as Gretchen imagined.
Mary Alice Casey is a writer, editor and member of the MOV'n Dragons.