Row, row, row your dragon

Inner Harbor boat race attracts dedicated crews to raise money for charity

September 10, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

When her boyfriend proposed, Michelle Lose said yes.

But when it came time to start planning the wedding, the 35-year-old Verizon engineer from Abingdon had a conflict - the Catholic Charities Dragon Boat races.

"Initially, he suggested a fall wedding," said Lose, the captain of the boat sponsored by Verizon. "But I said, `Can I get through the dragon races? After Sept. 9, I can plan. How about a Christmas wedding?'"

Participating in the fundraising event in the Inner Harbor involves weeks of planning and months of practice. Even yesterday's race day was eight hours of competition on land and water.

"I just love it," Lose said between heats. "I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be."

The dragon boats look like extra long canoes painted in bright, cartoonish colors and designs. The head and tail are intricately carved into the 40-foot-long vessels provided by Catholic Charities. It can be slightly shocking to see them in the Inner Harbor.

"What is this?" one young woman asked a spectator as she jogged by the Maryland Science Center and looked onto the water.

Linda Mescall and her 7-year-old twins were visiting the science center from Northern Virginia and stumbled across the races during a lunch break. "We were surprised to see them," she said. "It's pretty fun."

The boat crews have 22 members: a steersman in the boat's stern and a drummer in the front, who sets the pace for the 20 paddlers. They raced 400 meters from the World Trade Center to the Maryland Science Center.

The 30 teams are sponsored by local companies and organizations that donate money to participate in the races. Each company is matched with a Catholic Charities' program, such as Our Daily Bread or St. Jerome's Head Start Program.

Many of the companies hold additional fundraisers for their partner programs and ask employees to volunteer with the groups. The race day raises about $400,000 for Catholic Charities, which holds the event every two years, said Kerrie Burch-Deluca, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities.

Rash Field, next to the Maryland Science Center, looked a little like the Preakness infield yesterday, with music blaring over loudspeakers and paddlers gathering under tents with grills and coolers. One tent was decorated to look like a tiki bar. Another was decorated to resemble a cruise ship. And Mount St. Mary's University's tent was an Irish pub in miniature.

"We love Irish pubs. I mean we went to the Mount," said Stephanie Anderson, captain of the team made up of graduates from classes of 1966 to 2005. "We like to have a good time."

The winners were almost incidental - almost.

T. Rowe Price won first place. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse was second and also won the tent-decorating competition. And Sparks-based PHH Arval's team came in third in the races. T. Rowe Price won the song contest and Eastern Savings Bank won an award for its hats.

The races were held for the first time in 1998 to mark the 75th anniversary of Catholic Charities. The executive director of the organization had seen the races in Hong Kong. And the idea of bringing a dragon boat race to Baltimore was especially appealing because the charity was founded in the Inner Harbor, helping immigrants who had just arrived in America, Burch-Deluca said.

The sport dates to ancient China and is steeped in tradition. But for Baltimore's version of the races, Joe Crostic, a partner with accounting firm KPMG, is a legend.

In 2004, he fell into Baltimore's murky Inner Harbor. "It was warm and foul," he recalled, though he added the accident was not the reason he wasn't on the paddling team yesterday.

The company included a passage about him in its team cheer, singing: "We've had our share of losses. There is nothing more to say / But who can forget that mighty splash when our drummer hit the bay?"

There were no similar mishaps yesterday.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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