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Race helps newcomer connect with community

Good news, everyone! The Deadliners - the Pioneer's own Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival team - isn't "that team that capsized at the starting line on YouTube" anymore!

OK, it's true that many of us were not actually in the boat that year, including yours truly (the sports reporter who had never, before Saturday, even seen a dragon boat).

And I realize by simply saying it, I remind people of that watershed moment in Dragon Boat history, thus perpetuating the legend.

But no matter.

Because in this year's festival, we also became legends. At least in our own minds.

Our 28th place finish will surely be regarded as the greatest 28th-place finish in short the history of the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.

OK, stop laughing. First off, the festival is not that old, so it's possible.

Second of all, considering our finish last year - a cool 76th out of 79 - I'd say that's a pretty solid improvement, no?

Granted, I wasn't on the boat last year. I wasn't even in Bemidji yet. So this was my first run at Dragon Boat glory.

I will admit, when someone in the office first mentioned Dragon Boat racing, I pictured mammoth Viking longboats. The kind with the big sails and little slots out of which archers would shoot when the ship met an enemy vessel. The kind you might imagine Thor riding.

Obviously, my lifelong dream of being a Viking was shattered when I realized that Dragon Boats aren't seafaring, don't have weaponry and (most importantly) originated in Asia rather than Scandinavia.

Like I said, I'm a newcomer. But I caught on quickly.

And I don't want to say that my presence alone improved our boat's performance. Mostly because the exact opposite is true. Our boat finished 28th out of 63 this year DESPITE my clumsy paddling and noodle arms.

I did, however, add to our team's impeccable fashion sense by wearing a John McEnroe-style headband.

And no, readers, I did NOT yell expletives at race officials and throw my paddle out of the boat following a disputed starting line point.

Make no mistake, though: A hearty cry of "You CANNOT be SERIOUS," may or may not have been uttered when it was discovered that the Deadliners came in dead last in our second heat after leading for a good chunk of the race.

The time separating all four boats in our heat was just over a second. We, inexplicably, brought up the rear in the race.

Our scapegoat? The official race timers.

Because, you know, the race timers are the ones paddling the boat, and the race timers are the ones who get badly out of rhythm and sync near the middle of the race which causes our boat to lose our big lead.

Yeah, that's the ticket. I'll go with that. It's the timer's fault...

Despite the, um, "timing" issue on our second race, we were still elated. We didn't tip the boat. We took second place in the Media Cup, also by a nose. We drank some beer. We didn't tip the boat. We bonded as a staff. We got the chance to socialize with basically everyone in the Bemidji community.

And did I mention we didn't tip the boat this time?

Good, because I should have mentioned that. We DID NOT tip the boat this time.

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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