By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published June 4, 2009
Nearly 200 young adults participated in a sport thousands of years old as they stroked in unison through the calm waters of Lake Lanier May 30, aiming to bring that same synchronicity to their faith communities.
The blazing sun shone brightly on dragon boats—long and narrow human-powered devices used in dragon boat racing, a team sport that originated in China over 2,000 years ago.
The first-time event was designed to bring archdiocesan young adults of varying cultures together for a day of fellowship and fun, said Dorothy Polchinski, associate director of the archdiocesan offices for adult and young adult ministry.
The idea originated with John DePalma, of St. Michael Church, Gainesville, who recently helped arrange an event there to bring young Anglos and Hispanics together and suggested that young adults of the entire archdiocese do the same.
“I brought the idea to our director, Dennis Johnson Jr.,” Polchinski said. “It was due to his overwhelming support and encouragement that we were able to move forward. John brought a team of coaches to our YAM leadership meeting in November 2008 and presented the idea to a group of 80 young adult leaders.”
On Saturday they saw the idea come to fruition as people paddled through the water, smiling and enjoying a new sport.
Gathering first for lunch at the site where Olympic events were held in 1996, each was given a colored wristband, assigning him or her to a team. As the crowd finished lunch they lined up with their teams and chose team names. At a dock, one by one, the teams were shown proper strokes and techniques for dragon boat racing. The instructors arranged the teams into two straight lines, just how they would be positioned once they stepped into the boat. After they received their initial lesson in maneuvering and power strokes, they carefully stepped into the slender boats, which were designed in traditional fashion with dragonheads on the front and tails on the back.
The leaders took the teams out for practice runs for over an hour so they could get the feel of the strokes and work on the timing of paddling together. Dragon boat racing is a team sport celebrated in many parts of the world. The International Dragon Boat Federation organizes racing at an international level and recognizes two types of activities, sport racing and festival racing.
It took several racing heats to decide a winner, with the Purple People Eaters taking first, followed by the Silver Bullet and the Green Destroyers in second and third place, respectively.
The event was a collaboration by several groups. DePalma, who is president of the Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, was able to arrange all the logistics at the lake, including the use of the Hong Kong Society of Atlanta’s authentic dragon boats. The YAM office made arrangements for a caterer, DJ, registrations and publicity, as well as an award ceremony.
Polchinski said the feedback she received has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve never hosted an event where someone didn’t want to see at least one thing changed. This one, it’s all been 100 percent positive. Young adults have been asking, ‘This is going to be an annual event, right?’ or ‘I can’t wait to do this again.’”
Polchinski, who grew up on a military base, said she feels comfortable among diverse groups. And on Saturday, she felt “at home.”
“The purpose was to build unity among the young adults of the archdiocese,” she said. “Our office is actually moving toward a vision of empowering young adult leaders to take ownership and to build vibrant communities of faith on the parish level.”
“This is an event that is rare for us to host, but we believe that in order for us to really unite and connect as young adults, we needed an event,” she said. “The outcome was a huge success because it allowed for us to become a stronger team as the body of Christ. One of the Hispanic leaders shared with me at the end of the event: ‘No one thought of their ethnicity during this event, but on how they could help their team win.’ Imagine if we always kept this as our focus how much we could do to advance the kingdom of God.”