NEW FRANKLIN Portage Lakes State Park expects more than 1,000 people to be in attendance at the 6th annual Dragons on the Lake Dragon Boat Festival on July 28. Hosted by Portage Lakes State Park and the Dragon Dream Team, the festival centers around congenial dragon boat races and inclusivity.
This year, 37 diverse teams will compete in a 250-meter race. Corporate teams will race alongside recreational teams, out-of-state breast cancer teams, and even the first team from the New Franklin Mayor’s Office.
"Our community is growing as far as everyone knowing about the festival. Everyone hears about it and wants to help out," said Sara Eddy, the festival coordinator and one of the festival’s founding members.
Admission for spectators is free. Vendors will include Popsmith, Stone Pelican Rolling Cafe and Papa-Roni’s. Boxed lunches are available for preorder for $5. Live entertainment starts around lunch time. Stark State massage students will also be there giving out free massages. Shuttle buses and Gator utility vehicles will also be available for those needing assistance.
"It’s been wonderful to have a team that uses our state parks and lakes for training and then brings 1,000 people out to not only experience what they do, but also see what Portage Lakes State Parks has and enjoy the day," said Michael Studeny, Portage Lakes State Park manager.
Boats, paddles, life vests and professional steerspeople will be provided to each registered team of 20 padders by Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing. Teams can also spend 60 minutes on the water learning the paddling basics in the days leading up to the race. Teams not only have the opportunity to win racing titles in their division, but also awards for creativity and fundraising.
The Dragon Dream Team is also a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit with a goal to bring awareness to breast cancer. Funds raised from events like the festival go to the team and their outreach program Boatloads of Hope. Last year, the festival raised $12,000 and Boatloads of Hope was able to give out 550 pashminas for patients going through chemotherapy.
"We are in 18 cancer treatment centers in the area," said Eddy. "We give patients a pashmina and a note, letting them know there is life after breast cancer and that they aren’t alone."
According to its website, the team is Ohio’s first all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. About 50 women form the team and they continue to grow, pushing the limits of their 2.5 dragon boats. Although no men have joined the team yet, they are open to male survivors of breast cancer as well.
"I believe fully in what they do, not only for the community, but for the ladies that have gone through some of the worst things you can think of," Studeny said. "I love the fact that we can have a small part; a place to train and hold their event here. They could go anywhere and they choose to come to Portage Lakes. That means a lot to me being the park manager. For me, it’s a wonderful event and a great partnership."
The team is also a member of the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission and just returned from the Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy. The women, representing Ohio, placed third in the world with Canada and New Zealand teams winning first and second, respectively.
The Portage Lake State Park also supported the team’s training by providing pink buoys and placing them out as navigational aids.
"They came back from Italy kicking butt," said Studeny.