You are here: Home Music Beat Rotary Dragon Boats all about camaraderie
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

L.A. Beat

Rotary Dragon Boats all about camaraderie

E-mail Print PDF

Dragons invade Henderson Lake, June 23-25 as the ATB Rotary Dragon Boat Festival gets ready to launch another fun filled weekend of live music, merchants, and dragon boat races.
 The annual event is an opportunity to enjoy some sunshine, music and camaraderie.
“It‘s Ashley McKenzie gets ready for Dragon boating. Photo by Richard Amerythe longest two and a half minutes of your life,” said Marcie Stork, who has been a member of the LFS  Brave Hearts team since 2008.

Rotary Dragon Boat festival Race chair Karen Johnson observed the festival has exploded in popularity since she first got involved with the first Rotary Dragon 16 years ago in 2002 paddling with the City Of Lethbridge Dragn’ R Butz crew.
“We had 17 teams the first year. This year we have 66,” Johnson said, noting the festival was inspired by long time Rotary member John Rayner.

“He always walked around Henderson saw the “Abreast of Bridge” breast cancer team paddling in an old Voyageur canoe that was full of holes and decided to raise money to buy them a boat,” Johnson said, adding the success of the first fundraiser in 2000 inspired the three Lethbridge Rotary Clubs to start the official festival in 2001.

 This year there are 66 teams, 33 from out of town  including Calgary, Edmonton, Okotoks, Nelson, B.C, Medicine Hat, Saskatoon, Regina and even as far away as Bozeman, Montana, coming to race. She agreed Dragon boat racing gets in the participants’ blood.The ATB Rotary Dragon Boats Festival is this weekend. Photo by Richard Amery
“I’m not a competitive person, but when I get in that boat with people I’ve trained with and socialized with, I just want to beat everyone. And there’s four boats in a row with 18 to 20 people in each of them waiting to start, and they’re all thinking the same thing,” said Johnson, who in between helping organize the event, is paddling with the Nauti Gals.

Johnson was assistant coach of Team ID for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 2008, the Rotary Festival decided to “beef up” the training provided to the festival teams so asked her to be one of the festival head coaches.

She completed the Level A of the National Coaching Certification Program in 2008, obtaining her Dragon Boat Canada Level One Coaching Certification in 2010. She has taken Dragon Boat Canada Officiating Level One in 2010, Critical Eye Coaching sessions, and several paddling technique workshops. Karen attended the Water’s Edge Dragon Boat Conference in Vancouver in April 2009 and 2010 and Dragon Boat Canada conferences in Toronto 2012 and Montreal 2013. Karen has officiated in Lethbridge, Edmonton, Vancouver and Regina.

She added there are opportunities to travel too.
“Pond Scum, from Regina went to Puerto Rico for the Pan American Dragon Boats championship in Ponce, Puerto Rico in March,” she said noting they medalled in every event they entered. So competition is stiff.
 She brought two dragon boat teams including the Canuck Cruisers and Coulee Classic Dragons to New Zealand in April for the World Masters Games.

“It was amazing. You don’t have to qualify to go there. We spent most of our time in Auckland. It’s such a beautiful country, I’d love to live there,” she said adding  Lethbridge teams will be going to Australia in November 2018.
“ It‘s so great to see. There were over 40 countries from all over the world participating in it. It‘s all about the sport, it’s not about politics or religion,” she said.

“The intent of this festival is to provide the community with an opportunity to gather and work together for the promotion of the sport; building friendships and good will,” she said, adding though the event is technically a fundraiser for the Rotary clubs, raising awareness about the clubs as well as the sport of dragon boating is more important.


“ Some years we don’t make any money on the event because of the weather,” she said, adding their team have been practicing since mid may for this event. Brave Hearts Marcie Stork and Ashley McKenzie put their game faces on for the 2017 Dragon boat races. Photo by Richard Amery

Marcie Stork and teammate Ashley McKenzie look forward to the event every year. Their team, the LFS Brave Hearts, are one of the teams which go all out for the event, painting their faces and donning their bandanna and kilt uniforms.
“I went to watch the event  and decided I wanted to participate in it,” Stork said.

“There‘s a lot of energy and positivity, both on and off the water,” Stork said, noting the team’s name came from brainstorming a variety of names.

“That’s the one we all liked,” she said. She paddled for a  couple of years, then took up the drumming position, before assuming the position of Brave Hearts coach.
Stork inspired Ashley McKenzie to join the Brave Hearts  in 2010.

“It looked like so much fun, so I joined the team. it‘s a lot of fun to get to know the other members of my team and the other teams,” McKenzie said.
“Last year I was maid of honour at my sister’s wedding, and came straight from the wedding to the Dragon boat races because even a wedding was no excuse to miss the dragon boats,” she chuckled.
 Stork was so dedicated to the sport and her team that she bought her own paddle.

“ But unfortunately I lost it when it got mixed in with all of the other paddles,” Stork said, adding their team has been practicing since June 1, weather permitting , of course.
McKenzie enjoys competing in the health Care providers challenge race.

“ There are a couple  special races I look forward to including that one,” McKenzie said.
The teams race two to three times on Friday and Saturday to to qualify to compete in the medal rounds on Sunday in two more races.

The Brave Hearts are excited to participate this year.
“We‘re thinking of bringing our own piper this year,” Stork said.

 The event is a lot of fun to participate in or even just to volunteer. They always need volunteers,” Stork said.

“ It’s going to be a  perfect weekend. There’s a lots to do. There’s a kid‘s corner, there’s lots of food vendors, vendors  and a great line up of entertainment,” Johnson said adding it is difficult to estimate how many people attend the event every year.

“ I’m usually on the race side for the whole weekend so I don’t even get to see the entertainment side of it. But there’s about 1,700 people participating in it and their friends and family. Some people come to see their favourite teams or their favourite bands,” she observed.

This year there is a cornucopia of local acts performing including country musician Dusty Dee Litchfield performing on Friday at 5 p.m., rock band Who’s Yer Daddy and Alyssa McQuaid and Coyote Junction closing of Friday night.
The music begins at 11 am. on Saturday with blues band Coda followed by the Rose Ceremony at noon, Dory and the Weathermen, Hibikaya drummers, local funk rock trio Adequate at 2 p.m., Cody Hall, Chinook high’s Diversfied, and Fast Times at 5:30 p.m. Local dance troupes are performing throughout the event. Breanne Urban and southern Flyer finish off the night from 8-10 p.m.

 Sunday begins with E-Free at 11 a.m., followed by Marissa Van , Chinook high School band Rough Around the Edges, Shane Painter and the Chevelles closing things off at 3 p.m. before closing ceremonies at 4 p.m.
“It’s a great venue for it. You can watch it from all around the lake. It’s become one of the biggest festivals in Alberta,” Johnson said, noting there is no charge to attend the event.
The entertainment schedule and race schedule are online at


Friday, June 23
5 p.m – Dusty Dee Litchfield
6 p.m – Festival Opening Ceremonies
6:30 p.m – Who’s yer Daddy
8p.m – Desert Wind Belly Dancers
8:30p.m – Alyssa McQuaid and Coyote Junction
Saturday, June 24
11 p.m  – CODA Blues
12:p.m – Rose Ceremony

12:30p.m – Dory & The Weathermen
1:30p.m – HIBIKYA

2 p.m– Adequate
3p.m – Cody Hall

3:30p.m– Urban Beat
4 p.m– Chinook High school band, Diversified
5 p.m – Canadian Rocky Mountain Cloggers
5:30 p.m – Fast Times

8 -10 p.m– Breanne Urban and Southern Flyer
Sunday, June 25
11 p.m – E-Free

12p.m – Marissa Van Hell
12:30 p.m – Chinook High school band, Rough Around The Edges
1:30 p.m  – Expressions Dance
2 p.m – Shane Painter
3 p.m – The Chevelles

4 p.m. – Festival Closing Ceremonies & Medal Presentations

A version of this story appears in the June 21, 2017 edition of the Lethbridge sun Times/Shopper
— By Richard Amery, L.a. Beat Editor

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 21 June 2017 13:47 )  
The ONLY Gig Guide that matters


Music Beat

Lights. Camera. Action.
Inside L.A. Inside

CD Reviews


Music Beat News

Art Beat News

Drama Beat News

Museum Beat News