"Moms' dragon boat team" paddles toward victory, locally and internationally (2024)

"Moms' dragon boat team" paddles toward victory, locally and internationally (1)

Feng Lijuan is a banana farmer, Guo Yanting is a stay-at-home mom, and He Guangqun is a barista. Though the three women are in different age groups and lead different lives, they join together every year to compete as a dragon boat racing team.

As all members are mothers, the team is affectionately known as the "moms' dragon boat team" by locals. It reunites each Dragon Boat Festival in Shatian Town, which is located in Dongguan City of south China's Guangdong Province.

For the rest of the year, its members, who range in age from 28 to 62, are busy working and caring for their families. But as the Dragon Boat Festival approaches, they pick up their paddles and prepare to work in sync to reach the finish line. Against the rhythmic beat of drums, they compete for victory in local, national and global races.

The Dragon Boat Festival, also called Duanwu Festival, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which falls on Monday this year. It commemorates Chinese renowned patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who was also a minister of the State of Chu during the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.). The dragon boat race is one of many traditions of the festival and has developed into a sport.


Feng Lijuan, 54, is one of the team's most experienced members.

She was born and raised in Shatian, a waterside town where residents once lived on boats and relied on the water for their livelihoods. Although its residents live ashore today, their affinity for water remains unchanged.

During her youth, Feng would rush to the banks when she saw locals rowing dragon boats or heard the sound of drums. But she never thought that one day, she would join a dragon boat team, travel abroad and return with championship trophies for China.

In 1996, her opportunity arose when the town's government established a women's dragon boat team. She immediately signed up to join.

"When I was selected to join the team, I was reluctant to get out of the boat after my first training session," she said. "I kept paddling even after the others said it was time to call it a day."

In 1999, the Shatian women's dragon boat team competed in the third World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in the United Kingdom, representing China. Thanks to rigorous training, the team secured gold medals in three races.

"When we heard 'China' announced during the award ceremony, our happiness was beyond words," Feng said as her eyes welled with tears of joy. Rowing the dragon boat keeps her happy and healthy, she added.


For team member Guo Yanting, 38, the dragon boat holds a deeper meaning -- it has helped her find a new life path.

In 2018, Guo found herself at a low point, she said. Her career as a clerk was not going well, and she felt lost. It was then that her mother, a seasoned dragon boat racer, encouraged her to join the Shatian team to prepare for a 2019 race in the United States. After giving the idea some thought, she decided to resign from her job and take the chance.

Guo said that she was not competent during the initial stages of her dragon boat training. Her hands would bleed from bumping against the boat and she experienced back pain, shoulder periarthritis and strains during practices. To sharpen her skills and improve her fitness, she undertook extra training on top of the six-hour sessions she had already been attending, rising early every day to run and working to control her diet.

Her hard work soon paid off. She secured her spot on the team and traveled to the United States to participate in the 2019 dragon boat race. And after a long selection process, she became a member of the Guangdong provincial dragon boat team in 2021 and is now preparing for China's 15th National Games.

"Although paddling a dragon boat is tiring, it has brought significant changes to my life," she said. "Now, when I face any challenge in life, I encounter it head-on, just like paddling. I'm determined in everything I do, without hesitation."

Today, influenced by dragon boat culture, dragon boat classes and products have gained popularity in Dongguan. And the sport is attracting growing numbers of young people, including He Guangqun, a "post-90s" member of the Shatian women's dragon boat team.

"Our younger generations should pass on this tradition as the spirit of teamwork and striving for excellence, as demonstrated in the dragon boat race, is something that we still need in our everyday lives," she said. "I will continue paddling as our senior team members do, so that my children can see their mother's perseverance."

"Moms' dragon boat team" paddles toward victory, locally and internationally (2024)
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