Villagers race through the water

Members of the Tennessee Heat Dragon Boat Club race to the finish line June 22 in the KARM Dragon Boat Festival at The Cove at Concord Park. The club took first place in the Mixed Division.

The Tennessee Heat Dragon Boat Club is having a fantastic season and recently won gold in the Knox Area Rescue Ministries’ 17th annual Dragon Boat Festival.

The club took first place in the Mixed Division and won the 2019 Best Community/Non-profit Award.

This marks the first year the club consists of all Village residents.

“That was a big deal for us, especially since when we placed at the TCWN Festival two years ago, we had merged for the summer with the Mad City Paddlers,” Ginger McDonald, club president, said. “They were a much younger and stronger group than us, and eventually, they got their mooring back and went their own way. This time, this really was a senior team with just people from Tellico Village. We were really thrilled when we did well at KARM.”

Bob Werner is McDonald’s seat mate in the boat and was thrilled with the victory.

“It was a surprise for us to take first place,” Werner said. “Last year, we didn’t place at all. We worked pretty hard to get there.”

Dragon boating is a sport steeped in ancient Chinese tradition that dates back more than 2,500 years.

Mike Michelli founded the club in June 2016.

“We’ve grown enough that we’re able to field our own team now, which is exciting,” McDonald said. “We are up to about 40 members, so yes we’ve grown a little bit each year since we’ve been in existence. We’re hoping someday to grow enough that we can field a men’s team, a women’s team, as well as a mixed team. We’re an active bunch of people, but we can never seem to get more than 20 people for a race at a time right now, but that’s our hope.”

Werner and his wife, Dee Foster, joined the club last year after moving into the Village.

He believes dragon boat racing is a unique and fun way to stay active, but also serves as a social outing.

“We had just moved into the Village and we were looking for things to do,” Werner said. “We had heard about dragon boating and so it seemed like kind of a fun thing to do. We like being active, and we like doing different things. This is interval training, but it’s low impact, which is different from running or walking or a lot of the other exercises you can do. It’s not like going out and running five miles, so it’s a little bit different of exercise. A lot of us, after most practices, will go have breakfast. There’s a social aspect to it, as well as an exercise aspect.”

“The people are really fun,” Foster added. “We have a really good group of people and we do things together.”

McDonald believes dragon boating is a great sport that provides exercise for people with lower body issues or injuries.

“The attraction for me is I have a longstanding knee injury,” McDonald said. “I injured my anterior cruciate ligament in college, so I can’t run, I can’t play tennis, I can’t play pickleball, I can’t do a lot of those sports that involve a lot of being on my feet and changing directions quickly. When I heard about the Dragon Boat Club from a New Villagers meeting, I immediately said, ‘Wow, this is for me.’

“It is a very hard workout,” she added. “Obviously, it’s not for the kind of people that have shoulder or elbow issues, but for anyone who’s got hip or knee or ankle issues, it’s great. You use up your calories, get your cardio in and get some high intensity interval training with the practice starts and practice races that we do.”

The club meets 9 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Tugaloo Pavilion.

McDonald is looking forward to starting a new group for beginners.

“I’m hoping, starting this week, to have Rookie Paddle,” she said. “I’ll be steering for that. It’ll just be going out and just paddling easily and enjoying being out on the water. They don’t need to bring anything but themselves. We’ve got lifejackets and we’ve got paddles. Because the season is halfway over right now, we have cut our annual dues for the rest of the season in half, so they can come out three days a week until the end of October for $25.”

The club’s next meet is Aug. 10 for the Drums on the Dam Dragon Boat Race on Douglas Lake.