The Valkyries paddling during Sunday’s dragon boat races in the heart of downtown Portland.
This weekend brought the much-anticipated spectacle of the Rose Festival Dragon Boat Races, an annual event begun in 1989 to promote cultural exchange and goodwill between Portland and its Taiwanese sister city of Kaohsiung.
Simone and Kyndall signed up to be part of an all-women team competing in the two-day event. And because participants are asked to have family and/or friends volunteer, Lori and I found ourselves involved, too. Sweet.
Simone & Kyndall before the races begin Saturday.
S & K joined a new team called The Valkyries, named for a group of fierce women warriors in Norse mythology, and spent the preceding 10 weeks or so training on the choppy waters of the Willamette River.
Our roles were far less strenuous. Lori helped with pre-registration of the more than 60 teams in this year’s competition (mixed and women’s divisions) and I helped with the recording of official race results.
The Valkyries get set up early Saturday morning.
I signed up for the early morning shift starting at 8 a.m. Saturday at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park. I arrived an hour early, giving myself plenty of time to see teams setting up on the grassy knoll above the water, find the command tent where I’d be stationed, and pay a pre-race visit to The Valkyries. They had goodie bags filled with snacks and swag for every team volunteer (a nice touch) and I met the team captain, an outgoing woman coincidentally also named Simone.
During the next few hours, I got an eyeful and earful of what it’s like to be at the nerve center of the whole operation — sort of like being backstage at a play or, to offer a cheesier analogy, like being behind the Wizard of Oz curtain.
Our tent was the closest to the water, so I had an unobstructed view of the finish. Because of a severe angle, we couldn’t quite see the starting line; but that was no big deal.
Volunteers (from foreground) Arin and Beth record race results as Alix makes announcements.
Inside the tent, there was a single, long folding table with benches in the middle of the space; walkie-talkies and other supplies on a table against one wall; a laptop computer and printer against the back wall; and sound equipment and all manner of cables tucked into one corner. At the front opening was a microphone for two women who tag-teamed calling the races and making public address announcements.
(Brief aside: What a pleasant surprise to find that one of the announcers was Alix Ulrich, who had written a guest column for the Hillsboro Argus just before I left my position as opinion editor last year. Alix was a busy woman Saturday, shuttling between races as a dragon boat crew member and turns at the mic.)
I wouldn’t say the command tent space was cramped, but there were at least seven of us in there, and nearly a dozen at times as the race director and other volunteers came and went. The level of chaos rose and fell as race results were called in from the finish boat over the walkie-talkies, and fellow volunteers repeated the times back to confirm, all while the PA announcers were calling an ongoing race and side conversations were going on. I confess it was distracting at times.
George awaits results to be uploaded.
My job: to log in the official results and upload them to a designated website, and to periodically print out the results and post them on a board outside the tent for dragon boaters and their supporters to view.
It was an enjoyable experience and one I anticipate might repeat itself next year if Simone and Kyndall decide to compete again.
Like so many public participation events in Portland — road runs, street festivals, musical concerts, holiday tree-lightings — there was a great vibe of we’re-all-in-this-together. Whether you were in the boat, in a vendor’s tent or doing some kind of volunteer task — schlepping water and sandwiches, marshaling the teams to the starting line, or standing guard at restricted areas — there was a camaraderie that created a great sense of community.
I can see now why veteran race director Tom Crowder, who was among those coming and going from the tent, told us at a volunteer orientation meeting a couple weeks earlier that the event simply could not be held without the support provided by dozens upon dozens of volunteers. The race organizers had to round up enough people to fill two shifts Saturday and two more Sunday. In addition, a core group of lead volunteers committed to being there for the duration.
Alice, coach of two Pink Phoenix teams, calls the action during the Gorman Cup.
As for the races themselves, I was there for 22 of them held between 8 a.m. and noon, followed by an exhibition race featuring four boats representing Pink Phoenix, a dragon boat team made up entirely of breast cancer survivors. The team’s coach, a friendly redhead named Alice, came into the tent to give background on the Gorman Cup, named after a team captain who died in 1988, and call the action..
As you can imagine, those teams got the biggest applause of the morning.
The Valkyries, meanwhile, did quite well. They finished second in their four-team heat in the first race, then won their second-round race against two other teams. That meant they qualified to race again Sunday. They finished second in each of two more races to qualify for the championship round, finishing fourth behind three teams that practice year-round. As Simone said on social media: “1st year, 4th place, not bad!”
I’m very proud of Simone and Kyndall for making the commitment to carve time out of their busy lives for midweek practices and for coming together with a group of other strong women to perform so well this weekend.
The Valkyries crew members are all business Sunday afternoon.
As a volunteer, I got a vicarious thrill out of being there and appreciated the behind-the-scenes glimpse of Ground Zero.
See a story and photos from The Oregonian/OregonLive here: Annual dragon boat bonds cultures, survivors
Saturday photographs: George Rede
Sunday photographs: Sam Caravana, The Oregonian/OregonLive