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Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Dragon Boat race returns after year hiatus

SALISBURY — Twenty-one teams hit the water Saturday in a quest for boat racing dominance and a good cause.

The Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Dragon Boat Festival is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year, but it was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was back Saturday this year for its seventh edition, making a splash.

Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding said 29 teams is the most ever for the event, but she was happy to exceed the inaugural year’s 16 teams because of the circumstances in the previous year. Spalding said it was a great day, and the chamber did what it needed to do to keep people safe in canceling the 2020 event, which helps fund small business programs and services such as its minority business, women in business, young professionals and agriculture business programs.

This year’s event was dedicated to Don Lyerly, a Rowan Shrine Club member who passed away last year. His family accepted a recognition for him at the festival.

Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese rowing sport. Teams of more than a dozen people pile into long boats and row to the beat of a leader beating a drum. Teams at Saturday’s festival competed in three-boat heats. The morning races determined placements in divisions. Then, the three-team divisions competed in single races to determine placements.

Pan Am Dragon Boat, a company that specializes in running the race portion of dragon boat festivals, was managing the races.

The event packed the grounds at the Rowan Shrine Club’s High Rock Lake facility. New this year is a partnership with Livingstone College’s WLJZ-LP 107.1 FM.

Station Manager Keith Anderson said the chamber was looking for a radio station to DJ the event. The college was happy to partner for the festival.

Another first this year was that New Sarum Brewing Company concocted a special rice lager along with the litany of other food and drink vendors serving the event.

Other parts of the event were familiar. Novant Health and Trinity Oaks have been sponsors since the beginning. Novant would normally field teams in the event, but Rowan Medical Center Foundation Development Manager Kristen Trexler said the health care organization pulled teams to make sure its staff stays health amid climbing COVID-19 cases.

Trinity at Home Community Outreach Director Teresa Dakins said the event brings employees who would not normally see each other together outside of the normal work day, and the event is popular with residents as well.

Novant awarded its Wellness Cup to Food Lion No. 10, the store on Jake Alexander Boulevard. The award goes to businesses to recognize their workplace wellness programs.

“It’s a good team building exercise,” Dakins said.

Teams were fielded by a number of local businesses and organizations. Rowan Young Professionals fielded a team. So did Rowan County government, F&M Bank and Daimler Trucks, to name a few.

Leigh Schoonover, a rower with Healing Dragons of Charlotte, said this is the first team sport she has ever participated in.

The Healing Dragons are a cancer survivor and support team. Schoonover, a breast cancer survivor, has been rowing with the dragons for five years.

“Its just been incredible to get that team spirit and also to have that support of other people,” Schoonover said.

Gator Bites, the 2019 champion team, won the Gold Division championship again this year.

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