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Winter 2014

It Floats Her Boat

Dragon BoatShe likes the water. She likes the exercise. But when it comes to dragon boat racing, what Tracie Jones, student engagement ambassador in the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), really likes about being a member of the Harvard Dudley Dragon Boat team is the fact that everyone works together.

"I love that you're able to meet other people from the Harvard community that you wouldn't normally meet," she says. The team, originally made up of just students, now includes people from all over the university — staff, students, fellows, and faculty. Jones says that the bond created is actually essential for the team to practice, which it does three times a week, and for competing in races, which is does about six times a season. (The season runs from late April until early September.)

"Our motto is: one boat," she says. "If you're not all in sync, you won't be able to go faster."

Getting in sync can take time; team members can join without having any prior experience.

"They give you a paddle and show you what to do," Jones says. "You learn by watching the person in front of you, and the person behind you gives you suggestions on how to improve your stroke."

Dragon boats are similar to canoes. With both, users paddle rather than row, and paddlers face forward, toward the direction of travel, rather than backwards, as you would when rowing. The number of paddlers in a boat varies, but the Harvard team uses 20, with 10 on each side, as well as a person in front facing the paddlers, called the drummer, and one in back, called the steerer.

Jones says that dragon boat racing has a long history, dating back more than 2,000 years to China when a poet named Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River to protest the government. Distraught villagers, in an attempt to save him, furiously paddled their boats across the river, pounding their paddles along the way to scare away fish. Unfortunately, Yuan died. To honor his memory, a dragon boat festival is held every year in China. The Harvard team traveled to the festival in Taiyuan last June to compete against 50 other teams. In addition to Jones, team member Alex Galindo, also a staff member in OSA, attended. Galindo couldn't race because of tendonitis but served as the team's flag bearer. Still, he says, being on the team and going to China "was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and highly recommends the sport to everyone.

Although the team is on hiatus until the weather again gets nicer, Jones is actively filling the candy jar that sits on the front desk in the OSA office, hoping it attracts students or staff members who want to learn more about dragon boats — or joining the team. As Jones says, quoting novelist Marcel Proust, "Discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing things with new eyes." So why not, she adds, "discover the sport of dragon boating?"