A group of University of Oregon alumni gather on a dock along the Willamette River in Portland, wearing yellow life vests and holding red paddles. They practice a rowing motion unlike anything they have ever tried in a canoe or kayak.
After several months of dry-land practice, the group gets the chance to climb aboard the real thing — a dragon boat.
The 20 alumni sit between the intricately carved and brightly painted head of the dragon and the fire-like tail of the boat, their red paddles representing the dragon’s claws. They take off down the river, gliding under Portland’s iconic bridges, the downtown cityscape in the background.
All this hard work will culminate Saturday when they compete in the dragon boat races, part of the Portland Rose Festival. The alumni race team is the newest addition to the UO’s ongoing support of the beloved festival.
Saturday will kick off with the Grand Floral Parade, which winds more than four miles through the core of Portland, from the Rose Quarter across the Burnside Bridge, past the UO’s White Stag Block and through downtown, finishing near Lincoln High School.
The UO will once again sponsor the “We Are Oregon” section of the parade. The Duck, cheerleaders, alumni band and Duck Truck will be in the parade, greeting fans and celebrating all things Oregon.
The dragon boat races are both Saturday and Sunday. The UO’s team will compete against an Oregon State University alumni team at noon Saturday. Races can be watched from along the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
“I can’t believe this was the first time most of the members had been out on the water. They are really motivated and have worked really hard,” said Margaret Usher, a UO graduate who is coaching the team. “It’s a really great mix of people. I think it’s great to reconnect to people who had the same experience as you did in college.”
Usher hopes the race will spur interest in creating a university dragon boat category with other alumni teams or even create a dedicated UO alumni team to compete in other races in the Northwest.
One of the final festival events is Good in the Hood, June 24 to 26 in Lillis-Albina Park. For the second year in a row, the UO is a main sponsor of the multicultural music, arts and food festival. A UO information booth with an interactive game for prospective students and children will be available on Saturday and Sunday of the festival. The Duck Truck and Duck will be part of the parade at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 25, which travels down NE MLK Boulevard to Russell Street.
For more information about the Portland Rose Festival, visit www.rosefestival.org.
—By Heidi Hiaasen, University Communications