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Dragon boat racing continues tradition at RiverFest

Published: Sunday, June 8, 2014 6:19 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, June 9, 2014 7:59 a.m. CST
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(Sean King – For Shaw Media)
The Walter Daniels Construction Company Dragon Boat Team flag girl Melissa Palm of St. Charles reaches for the flag in a Dragon Boat Race during The St. Charles River Fest at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles.

ST. CHARLES – After competing in dragon boat racing for three years in a row, Elburn resident Julie Keen knows the importance of teamwork.

"That's the most important thing, to have a group of people who can keep in rhythm," Keen said.

Dragon boat racing was just part of the fun Sunday at the City of St. Charles RiverFest. The three-day festival concluded Sunday.

Keen was taking part in a long tradition. The sport of dragon boat racing was thought to have originated in southern central China more than 2,500 years ago.

The dragon boat races also have been an integral part of the festival, which celebrated its 32nd anniversary this year. Keen has been participating for the past three years as part of the FitMama Dragon Boat Racing team.

FitMama is a fitness facility in Elburn. The team is the only all-female team that competes in the dragon boat races.

"We do it for camaraderie," Keen said. "It's fun to keep it just women."

Erin Schaefer, owner of FitMama, previously had participated in the dragon boat races with the St. Charles Mothers Club.

"It's a fun day," Schaefer said. "It is a great chance for all the women to get to know each other more in a social atmosphere."

She agreed that the most challenging part of the race is making sure all of the participants are in sync.

"If you are not in sync, that boat isn't going anywhere," Schaefer said.

Members of the Black Hawk Performance Company, part of the American Indian Association of Illinois, were also at the festival.

"We teach and educate people about Native American culture," said Sheila Cloud, part of the group.

St. Charles has a strong Native American history. Pottawatomie Park was named after the Potawatomi tribe that settled in the area from 1700 to 1833.

Cloud said her group is trying to keep that history alive, such as through its dance demonstrations.

"They each have their own story to tell," she said.

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