Dragon boats race for charity on the Vltava river

Photo: Olga Mullen

Symbolically in the year of the Dragon, the third Dragon Boat Charity Challenge took place last Saturday on the Vltava river. The race is an annual event organized by Rotary Club Prague International as a fundraiser for charity.

Photo: Olga Mullen
On a beautiful sunny day in the heart of Prague, dozens of colorful boats with decorative dragon heads and tails floated close to Střelecký ostrov on the Vltava river as preparations for the race peaked. Thirty two teams of paddlers from supporting companies, participating charities and Rotary club members prepared to race for a good cause - to help disadvantaged children, drug addicts and elderly people. The event’s chief organizer Roman Straub told me more about this year’s race.

“It’s the third annual dragon boat race and we always have it in May. Last year it was very successful, we collected 510 thousand crowns, and we had 28 boats. This year is even bigger, and we are very lucky because we have very good weather. And all the teams and everybody is making it happen. So we really hope to make at least half a million for the three charities which are Život 90, Our Child Foundation, and then also Sananim, an organization that helps drug addicts.”

The canoe-shaped 12.5-meter-long boats are rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. Each of the boats accommodates 20 paddlers, sitting in pairs facing the bow. There is one navigator at the rear and a drummer in the front. The boats sway precariously as the paddlers board the vessels, putting on life jackets and settling into position.

The event consists of various timed races over the course of the day. After each series of races, the times are compared, and a smaller number of boats move to the next round. The history of dragon boat races started more than 2,200 years ago in China. Their modern-day era began in 1976 when the first Dragon Boat Festival took place in Hong Kong, and from there, the sport quickly spread around the world. One of the event’s co-organizers Petr Klíma from the Czech Dragon Boat Association says he is happy to help a good cause.

Photo: Olga Mullen
“This is a charity project so we are very happy to be able to help. Dragon boating for us is an activity that we spend plenty of time on, and the more people we find that are willing to paddle together in one boat, in one dress, for a good cause the better. This is the reason why we are here. Every year the interest is bigger and that’s our aim”.

The Dragon Boat Charity Challenge donates the money raised to three non-profit organizations. Those are: Our Child Foundation, Sananim and Zivot 90. The Rotarians hope to collect even more money than last year. The Our Child Foundation is participating in the event for the third time. Founder and current director of the organization, Zuzana Baudyšová, explains how the money will be put to use.

“Our foundation receives a third of the profit from this event. We will distribute the funds among mothers with handicapped children and use it to help abused children. For example we help the Center for handicapped children in Prague – the only centre of its kind in the Czech capital - and also children without homes. All these categories need help, need money.”

Another charity benefiting from this event is Sananim, one of the largest non-governmental organizations working with drug addicts. Sananim provides complex services from prevention to treatment and re-socialization of non-alcoholic drug addictions in 11 facilities. Sananim clients together with their therapists have put up their own racing team called Farmers. Executive director Jiri Richter introduces the Sananim racing team.

“Our team comes from the community Němčice, the oldest therapeutic community in the Czech Republic, which specializes in the treatment of long-term addictions, so it’s not rare that there are guys with a fifteen-year-history of heavy heroin abuse. I am really happy that we have established a mixed team of clients and therapists. It seems they are really enjoying the day and they look very happy.”

The Dragon Boat Charity Challenge attracted a lot of visitors and everybody is clearly having a good time at Střelecký ostrov. Finally only the best are left in the race. The competing team of Life 90, one of the benefiting charities, has unfortunately dropped out, but it has not spoiled their day. As the spokeswoman for Life90 Michaela Jendekova says, the organization is grateful to be able to take part.

“We are very glad to be here, it’s our third time, this kind of event is very helpful. Life 90, or Život 90 provides services for elderly people. We have a free crisis help line operating around the clock, which is a unique thing in the Czech Republic. We have an academy for seniors, and we try to help them find enjoyment in life. Last year the event brought us 270 000 crowns and this year we are hoping to get about 300 thousand which we are going to use for our helpline for seniors”

The race is over and first place goes to the Rotary Club Prague Old Town which successfully defended last year’s title. Club member and the district spokesman George Podzimek shares his impressions.

“It feels great, because the cup is returning to its proper owners. It has been on my mantel for a year, and now it’s back so I am very happy about that. We are the oldest team, the youngest member of our team is 28, the oldest is 75, our average age is about 68 years old and we are just the best. We are just like good wine, we get better with age.”

Photo: Olga Mullen
The Dragon Boat Charity Challenge 2012 is over and it’s time to start with preparations for next year. Vera Budway-Strobach, president of Rotary Club Prague International, says the event has been a major success.

„This has been an amazing day, we had an amazing turn out. Of course we were extremely lucky we had perfect weather, lots of people on the island, we’ve had lots of fun. And more importantly our charities benefited, and in fact, one of our charities Sananim even came in second, so this is great for them and they are really excited. So this has been overall an extremely successful event, we are getting better and better each year and we are really excited already about next year.”