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Nearly 50 teams compete in 2022 Dragon Boat Races

The Rotary Club of Superior and 23rd Veteran anticipate raising $50,000 for the community during the event.

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Members of the TJ Champs team sing Queen's "We Are The Champions" as they were towed back to the dock after capsizing on Saturday afternoon while racing in the 19th Lake Superior Dragon Boat Races off Barker's Island in Superior on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. All were in good spirits and no one was injured.
Amy Arntson / For the News Tribune
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SUPERIOR —Participants and onlookers flocked to Barker's Island over the weekend to attend the 19th Lake Superior Dragon Boat Races and festivities on Aug. 26-27.

Following a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the races returned with a roar, drawing 49 teams of 22 people each to paddle a 450-meter course. Each team adds its own flair to the festivities with uniforms and team chants. The event is put on by the Rotary Club of Superior , along with this year's partner charity, 23rd Veteran.

Festival Co-Chair Charlie Johnson anticipates the event will exceed its goal of $40,000 to raise over $50,000. Since the start of the festival in 2002, $1.4 million has been raised, and it continues to be the biggest summer event in the city of Superior.

"From a proceeds standpoint, every penny goes back into the community through 23rd Veteran —which helps veterans who are struggling with PTSD to return to civilian life. They have been an amazing partner," said Johnson, who has been involved with the event for 10 years, two as co-chair. "It feels awesome to be back. Attendance is looking up. The parking lot is filled. It's the greatest feeling."

Saira Vanderwees, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is the coach of the Dragons of Hope team that has paddled together in the festival for over 15 years. The team, made up of breast cancer survivors and supporters, participates in various paddling events across the globe.

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"These ladies love to paddle together. They're great support for each other. That's what breast cancer survivors do. They're there for each other, and this is a great way to exercise and stay connected," Vanderwees said. "Everybody has quite the unique journey. I call them my women warriors because they've got the fight and it just feels good to paddle. They feel like they're thriving, surviving and they just keep going. They inspire all of us that don't have breast cancer, every single day. Their hard work, their dedication is amazing."

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Steer volunteer Jake Spehar (standing) is one of the many steers that rides in the boats during the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival off Barker's Island in Superior on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. Their main focus is making sure the boat goes in the direction it should and keeping everyone aboard safe.
Amy Arntson / For the News Tribune

There were plenty of activities to keep onlookers busy throughout the two-day event, such as 5K fun runs, tug-of-war competitions, mini golf, live music as well as food and beer concessions. Attendees could also tour the S.S. Meteor , known as the last whale-back ship in the world, built in 1896.

"The feeling of having the event back this year is phenomenal after not having it for three years. To rebuild those connections, see our regular attendees, and make sure people are having fun," said Co-chair Ben Damberg.

Learn more about Lake Superior Dragon Boat Races at superiordragons.org.

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Team members celebrate as they cross the finish line during Saturday's Dragon Boat Festival at Barker's Island.
Amy Arntson / For the News Tribune
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A team eagerly makes their way to the start of the race during Saturday's Dragon Boat Festival.
Amy Arntson / For the News Tribune
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Paddlers wait to to enter their assigned boats during the Dragon Boat Festival at Barker's Island on Saturday.
Amy Arntson / For the News Tribune

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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