Lazy Dragons paddle for fun, fitness, camaraderie
Members of the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Dragon Boat team, the Lazy Dragons, paddle hard to hold their competitors during the Schiersteiner Harbor Festival July 12-13.

WIESBADEN, Germany - Poised with paddles submerged below the surface, arms stretched straight forward and heads down, row upon row of paddlers wait for the start. As soon as the official yells "Go," they pull their paddles backward, first slowly, then frantically plunging them into the churning water as one body.

Five boats surge forward, but only one counts in English: the Lazy Dragons. But they don't live up to their name.

Started back in 2008, the Lazy Dragons, as they are now known, is a dragon boat team made up of Americans from U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. Coached by German dragon boat veteran Gerd Stinner, the relatively inexperienced team overcame a constantly changing lineup and language barrier to finish first in the E final category at the Schierstein Harbor Fest Regatta July 12-13. Nearly 45 teams from around Germany participated in the regatta.

"A lot of paddlers sat for the second or third time in the boat [in the Schierstein races]," said Stinner. "Therefore, they did a really good job and I'm deeply impressed."

Dragon boating is believed to have started in China more than 2,500 years ago and is steeped in tradition, culture and legend. Today it is the fastest-growing international team water sport. A boat is made up of 20 paddlers with a drum-beater at the stern and someone steering in the bow.

In Germany, the sport took off around 1990 and has become one of the most popular sports in the country, according to Stinner -- 120 teams participated in the German Dragon Boat Championships this past June.

The American team has switched hands from first the 1st Armored Division and the American Red Cross -- Wiesbaden in 2008, then the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade's "Dagger Dragons." It has developed into a team including Soldiers, family members and civilians connected with several units at USAG Wiesbaden.?

Frequent turnover due to team members' permanent changes of station to and from Wiesbaden makes cohesiveness a challenge, said Mara Cornejo, procurement coordinator with the 66th MI and team captain since 2013.

"But the effort to get people together to enjoy dragon boating is very rewarding," she added.

Paddlers range in age from 16-62. Some are lifelong athletes; for others, like Nikki Weir Williams, it's their first foray into organized sports.

"It looked like something I could do, and I'm not a sporty person at all. I didn't do sports in school and I'm from Iowa with no water around," said Williams, a civilian spouse and doula. "It's teamwork and not any one individual is counted on. It's accessible to everyone, even if you have physical limitations."

She took to it quickly, and Stinner asked her to compete with one of the two German teams he coaches, Saubande. Coming up on her fourth year living in Germany, she said dragon boating has helped her integrate better.

"I like the friendships I've made with Germans and Americans. It helps me feel more connected to German culture, because it's huge here," she said. "It's something I can take back [to the U.S.] with me."

Stinner, who has been coaching dragon boats since 2003, hopes to establish the team as a permanent fixture at the garrison and coax Americans out into the German community.

"I want to invite the American community to take part in our normal social life," he said. "Anyone who is fun and motivated is welcome."

Dragon boating is a family affair, too. Several married couples, siblings, parents and their children paddle.

Manuela Moortel, a field representative for Central Texas College, and her daughter Katie, 25, an intern with the Corps of Engineers, paddle side-by-side on the same bench.

"It's to make friends, and the competition itself is very exciting," she said. "I would like more people to come out and join."?

Those interested in dragon boating should contact Mara Cornejo at motmot12@hotmail.com.?

Page last updated Wed July 30th, 2014 at 00:00