Capital City Dragon Boat Race 2017: Dragon boating, honoring survivors, and learning about Chinese culture

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On Sunday, May 21, the 7th annual Capital City Dragon Boat Race will take place at Lansing’s Hawk Island Park. It’s the fourth year that the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing will host the event, and it’s one of their biggest fundraisers of the year.

Boats with dragon heads at the stern and tails at the bow keep teams of 18 paddlers, one drummer and one flag bearer afloat. They’ll work together to race for 250 meters on the 30 acre pond, an effort that raises money for the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing (WCGL) by way of team entrance fees.

The WCGL has adapted a tradition that many modern dragon boating races hold: honoring those affected by breast cancer. The race also honors those who have suffered from other types of cancers as well as victims of domestic and sexual violence. This year, there will be two teams of survivors. The Survivor Squirrels are all cancer survivors, and the WCGL team is comprised of cancer, domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

“Every year there is a team of survivors,” said Cindie Alwood, executive director of the WCGL. “I think for the teams it’s kind of reclaiming their bodies and pushing themselves in a way they didn’t think possible. Dragon boating is very strenuous. It’s putting yourself out there in a way that you can’t take back. Once you’re in the boat, you gotta do what you gotta do. It helps people come to terms with what’s happened to them and take back their personal power.”

The Awakening the Dragon Ceremony–also called “Dotting the Eyes,” a Chinese custom–will happen at dusk on race day. The purpose is to open the dragon’s eyes and ward off evil spirits to prepare the pond for the race. After the competition, the Pink Carnation Remembrance Ceremony will be held to honor survivors and victims; putting the flowers in the water creates lasting memories for many.

That is just what happens on water, and what happens on land will keep spectators interested in more than just the races. With no shortage of activities to participate in and watch, the family-friendly fundraiser typically brings in over 1,000 people on race day. The Confucius Institutes from Michigan State University and Wayne State University will be in attendance, giving participants and spectators the chance to learn about Chinese culture and traditions. Confucius Institutes across the nation are educational organizations that promote Chinese language and culture, which promotes cross-cultural experiences.

“The Confucius activities that they bring are for kids,” said Alwood. “They can learn about Chinese culture, participate in learning Mandarin and have their picture taken with Panda Bear.”

Alwood’s favorite part of the event is watching the teams learn to paddle together and understand what their individual role is in the boat. “They go from paddles going in every direction to synchronized,” said Alwood. “They can be much more successful as a group rather than as an individual.”

To learn more, head to the Capital City Dragon Boat page where you’ll find race details, the team registration form and information on becoming a sponsor.


Emily Reyst is a senior majoring in professional writing. Outside of writing for ing, she  interns for the Broad College of Business Marketing team and the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. She was once hit by an airborne pizza box while driving her moped. Follow her on social media for updates in real time. Twitter: @accio_avocado  Instagram: emilyreyst


Tags: Capital City Dragon Boat, dragon boat race, emily reyst, events, Women's Center of Greater Lansing