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June 13, 2004

Making waves in new venture

From: Oregonian, OR - Jun 13, 2004


Gathering 24 teammates in a circle, Shannon Graham uses American Sign Language to talk pre-race, in-boat strategy with the Silent Dragons team.

Deep breaths, the team captain says. No chatting. Focus on the coach. Energy? Use all of it.

"We have plenty of time to get more energy before the second race," she says.

It's less than an hour and counting to the team's first race in the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association Dragon Boat Races.

The sprint on Willamette River between Marquam and Hawthorne bridges (535.6 meters, or 1,757.22 feet ) will mark Silent Dragons' debut in the annual Rose Festival event, now in its 16th year.

Many of the 90 teams competing in the various race divisions are veterans, including a handful that have been participating since the first 31-team field race in 1989.

For other teams, like Silent Dragons, competing in their first race is a triumph of camaraderie and gamesmanship, perseverance and sweat.

Tami Johnson of Milwaukie paddled for the Red Dragons, an all-female team, from 2000 to 2002. Now she's a rookie among rookies as a first-time coach for Silent Dragons.

"They might have paddled in the past, but not in a dragon boat race. So it's been interesting," she said of her coaching duties.

"We've made huge strides. I think that's huge in itself."

Silent Dragons finished fourth out of four boats in both of their Saturday races. Racing will resume at 8 a.m. today with quarterfinal heats. Finals for all divisions are scheduled to begin about 3 p.m.

Silent Dragons' roots date to December, with a call for organizing by Deaf & Hearing OUT Reach, a Southeast Portland-based nonprofit organization. It can be reached at

Natalie Tracy, a board member and Silent Dragons paddler, said the 2-year-old organization works to build community among deaf and hearing gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people, as well as supporters who are straight.

Ages range from early 20s to late 30s. Teammates such as Tracy can hear and can communicate in sign language with those who are deaf, such as Jeska Duckworth, board chairwoman of Deaf & Hearing.

Tracy, who sometimes interprets for deaf team members, said communication often was the easiest part of team-building for her.

"Having a team be deaf and hearing has not been our roadblock," she said, with a laugh. "It's been learning how to paddle. It's like any other team."

Duckworth, who married Tracy in March, said she decided to try organizing a team after attending races a couple of years ago and noticing a team with a couple of deaf members and sign language translators.

It was much easier finding people from the hearing community to join Silent Dragons, Duckworth said, because the deaf community is small and has not had a prominent presence in the sport.

"Some people were like, 'I've never heard of dragon boating," she said.

When the team finally came together, it had a huge gender gap.

"It was really hard to get men," Duckworth said. The team's only men are Steve Perdriau and John Davis, both of Beaverton. Davis' wife, Kyra Gray-Davis, also is on the team.

Even more daunting for the novice team was introducing members to a foreign sport with people some were meeting for the first time.

Jody Barrong of Milwaukie said she discovered dragon boat racing is not as easy as it initially appears.

"I thought, 'Oh, it's nothing; it's easy. Sure, I can paddle. I've paddled in a boat before; I'm ready.'

"There's a lot more required than I thought," she said. "All the sitting in the boat together, how to paddle properly, the stroke, how to hold the paddle, timing, rhythm. Also, we had to work on communication. So it was a really big learning process for everyone."

© 2004 The Oregonian. All rights reserved.