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Zen Dragons centered and competitive

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The Zen Dragon team and coach

To understand the spirit of the PCC Dragon Boat Team, the Zen Dragons, all you have to do is look back to the 2003 Rose Festival Dragon Boat Races.

The team was caught in deluge from a massive thunderstorm and chose to sit and wait in driving rain for 45 minutes. Being volunteers, they could have packed their bags and left, chalking one up to Mother Nature’s fury. They didn’t and went on to place in the semifinals that year.

"It was just amazing," said team coach Fran Palk. "They had such great spirit and we were ready to go once the storm cleared. We were freezing like icicles, but we did it."

As for the team name – Zen Dragons – Palk finds it an appropriate name.

"We like the meditative mode and disciplinary factor associated with the name," Palk said. "It centers us."

The PCC Dragon Boat Team was formed in 1989. It started as a PCC staff development project as a form of outreach to the Asian community and now has blossomed into an 18-year tradition of races all over the region. PCC was one of the founding teams. At that time, Portland’s sister city in Taiwan, Kaohsiung, sent four boats for the 40 teams to race with. Today, 90 teams compete locally and the fleet of boats is now eight.

Thanks to the support of PCC’s student government, the team flourishes year in and year out. The team has been so successful in attracting participants that a more advanced spin-off was formed in 1995 – the Stump Town Team. Stump Town features a good mix of experienced staff and students.

"Without the efforts of student government, the PCC team may not have survived and allowed an advanced spin-off team," said Palk. "The PCC student government has been great. They have helped out with funding and it has gotten to the point where I don’t have to ask. We’ve established a tradition at the college."

The members work as a team. So much so that through the years five marriages have resulted from people who met while rowing for the Zen Dragons. The PCC Dragon Boat Team has enjoyed wonderful leadership and development from its team. Many of the original coaches have gone on to coach call for championship teams in the Portland area. Others have advanced to the national level with various outrigger societies and have coached or raced internationally. Members have competed in South Africa, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Hawaii, British Columbia, Tampa and Fort Dodge, Iowa. All trips are paid out of pocket.

As for philosophy, the Zen Dragons are an introductory team in the mixed gender recreational category and perform very well. PCC’s team is depended upon to introduce new participants to the sport and teach the basic stroke. The PCC team is centered on students and the focus is on development of skills and camaraderie in dragon boat racing.

"We have worked hard at that," Palk said. "Instead of win-win-win, we have pride that we are an intro team. Our purpose is not to hang on to our paddlers, but have them become comfortable with their skills so they can go on to year-round racing. The philosophy has been quite successful."

To join the Zen Dragons, one must possess a healthy dose of Zen-like spirit. The team conducts a dotting of the dragon eye opening ceremony every April 1. This year, Portland City Mayor Tom Potter dotted the eye of the dragon to awaken it. The Zen Dragons won’t have to worry about awakening. They are always ready to go, rain or shine.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »