Army Warriors

The “Army Warriors” paddle on Vancouver Lake on June 18 with caller Heidi Steigmann at the front of the boat and Bill Beale at the back. 

Paddle for Life is returning to Vancouver Lake on Saturday, July 13. The event is free for spectators to watch as many teams of dragon boats paddle on Vancouver Lake to raise money for the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center (CCVAC). 

“There will be 37 boats of paddlers and probably an equal number of competitive teams competing against one another,” event organizer Dee Anne Finken said. “There will be about a dozen community teams, they will have two races during the day.”

Competitive races will be happening all day from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., with a medal awards ceremony to close out the event. Finken will be competing in the event for the boat titled “Catch-22,” a play on words not only because the 1961 Joseph Heller novel bearing the same title is about war and veterans, but because a dragon boat consists of 22 people.  

Dragon Boats have a regulation team size of 22: 20 paddlers, one person steering at the helm of the boat and one giving directions and coaching the team of paddlers on formation, speed and efficiency. Sometimes, the director plays a drum to keep the paddlers on beat. Although the regulation sport began in 1976, the history of dragon boats dates back over 2,000 years to ancient China and was an event in the original Olympic Games in Greece. Paddle for Life has teams of 10 and 20 paddlers and was established in 2009. Since then it has donated tens of thousands of dollars to charities in the area since. 


Coach for Catch-22, Laura Thornquist, helps Mary Johnson work on her paddling stroke while at practice on Vancouver Lake, June 18.

“I really like this team, I will do anything for the people on this team,” Coach for Catch-22 Dani Ramirez said, earlier stating that although she would rather be getting her exercise and paddling, there are benefits to coaching and gaining the experience that way. 

Gail Liberman, the director of Catch-22 started dragon boating because she wanted the upper body exercise.

“I came down here and didn’t know a thing about dragon boating,” she said. “I really, really liked the people on the team and that’s why I stayed.”

Kevin Anderson, a paddler for Catch-22 and a reservist in the National Guard, echoed Liberman’s thoughts about meeting great people and staying on the team. 

“What keeps me coming back to this team in particular is just the quality of people,” Anderson said after describing his experience finding the team on Facebook. “It’s a lot of people who are giving of their time and they’re very considerate folks who will put their time and energy into things like Paddle for Life.” 

Anderson has been paddling for Catch-22 for three years and, like Liberman, also enjoys the exercise and full body workout paddling provides. 

According to Finken, each team in the race paid to compete as well as having many local sponsors promote the event to raise money for the CCVAC and a raffle for prizes like gift cards at the event.

“The highlight and big thing people are getting excited about is mid-day; we will have the Battle of the Branches,” Finken said. “The race consists of boats from the Navy, Army Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines and all are fighting for the glory of being the best branch at dragon boating. “That is a special, dedicated race.” 

Following the Battle of the Branches will be the Battle of the Services, which will have teams like the SeaBees, a group of United States Naval Construction Battalions.  

“This will get people introduced to dragon boating and raise good dollars for the Veterans Center,” Finken said. 

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