Riding the dragon: Sport will take athlete to Australia
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Robin Crawford, a nurse at Western Pennsylvania Hospital, took up dragon boating when she returned to Pittsburgh in 2002 after several years of working in Colorado, mostly to make new friends.
"When I moved back to Pittsburgh, all my friends had gotten married or moved on," she said. "I went down to Three Rivers [Rowing Association] and tried dragon boating. I loved it. The camaraderie, the people you meet in order to win a race."
Ms. Crawford, 48, an Oakmont native now living in Verona, will be paddling halfway around the world, as a member of the U.S. women's team in the 2007 Dragon Boat World Championships in Sydney, Australia, this September.
"I'm so excited," she said. "It's something I've always dreamed of, to represent the United States."
Ms. Crawford was selected for the U.S. women's team during tryouts in Portland, Ore., in March. She is the only member of the team who isn't from the West Coast.
Dragon boat racing is one of the world's oldest sports, having originated in China about 2,400 years ago. A worldwide revival began about 25 years ago, and dragon boat racing is one of the world's fastest growing water sports, with tens of thousands of participants in about 60 countries. Roughly a quarter-million people watched the dragon boat festival in Toronto last year.
Tradition says dragon boating began when a great poet of ancient China named Qu Yuan (born c. 339 B.C.) was banished from the kingdom of Chu by corrupt politicians.
According to legend, Qu Yuan weighted his pockets with stones and waded into the Mei Lo River to drown himself in despair.
Fishermen raced to rescue their beloved poet. They beat gongs and drums and threw rice cakes into the river to try to keep fish from eating Qu Yuan. They never found him, but once a year, during the dragon boat festival, they symbolically search again for Qu Yuan's body.
There are two dragon boat teams in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Paddlers, associated with the Three Rivers Rowing Association at the Millvale Waterfront Park, and the Steel City Dragons, at Fox Chapel Marina.
In 2002, the Urban Redevelopment Authority bought one dragon boat each for the TRRA and the Steel City Dragons, in honor of the 20th anniversary of Pittsburgh's sister city relationship with Wuhan, China.
Pittsburgh has had a dragon boat festival each year since then. This year's will be Sept. 22 at South Side Riverfront Park.
A dragon boat is a long, slim, colorfully painted boat with a dragon's head. (The original purpose of the dragon's head was to scare away evil spirits.) It's paddled like a canoe. A typical dragon boat consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer who beats out cadence for the paddlers on a large ceremonial drum, and a helmsman who holds the tiller at the rear of the boat.
Though she started with the TRRA-sponsored Pittsburgh Paddlefish, Ms. Crawford has been paddling for the Steel City Dragons since 2002.
"I was paddling with Three Rivers, and they were beating us, so I jumped over to Steel City," she said.
Ms. Crawford also will represent the Pittsburgh area on a combined crew from the Steel City Dragons and the Pittsburgh Paddlers in the Independence Regatta in Philadelphia June 9.
First Published May 29, 2007 6:19 pm