LACEY, Wash. – The dragons return to the waters of Puget Sound Saturday, April 29, for one of the area’s most colorful spectacles, the Saint Martin’s Dragon Boat Festival. The event, now in its 12th year, will welcome more than 50 Northwest teams at Olympia’s Port Plaza that day to engage in fierce but friendly competition between dragon boat teams.
Dragon boat races lead off the Saturday morning of a South Sound weekend filled with extraordinary entertainment. All festival activities are free and family-friendly. Other weekend highlights in downtown Olympia include Arts Walk and the Procession of the Species, making the city a perfect spring destination for fun-seekers.
More than 1,200 participants are expected to take part in the festival’s dragon boat races and nearby multicultural performances. Dragon boats have been raced for some 2,000 years in China and East Asia. While the tradition’s origins are obscured by time, the most popular legend states races began to commemorate the fishermen who paddled their boats on the waters of China’s Miluo River in search of the body of exiled statesman-poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in despair over the human suffering and political corruption of his time. As the boaters paddled, they beat drums to keep evil spirits at bay and threw lumps of rice into the water to keep fish from feeding on Qu Yuan’s body. While festival teams will not be pitching rice into the Sound, they have trained hard to the beat of the drum carried by each boat, and their competition offers a glimpse into ancient traditions celebrating community and culture.
The Dragon Boat Festival begins at 9 a.m. with welcoming remarks by Saint Martin’s University President Roy Heynderickx, Ph.D., followed by the “Dotting of the Eye” ceremony and a traditional blessing of the lavishly carved dragon boats. Races begin at 9:30 a.m., with competition between paddling teams drawn from Northwest schools and universities, government, community organizations and businesses. The final heats of the race will commence at 4 p.m., followed by a closing awards ceremony.
Between heats, race-goers can enjoy music and performances, which take place just steps away from Olympia’s Farmer’s Market.
The Dragon Boat Festival has been a natural outgrowth of Saint Martin’s educational and cultural exchanges with China, which began in 1995. Each year, China is a popular destination for University faculty members teaching business, accounting and general education and for students participating in China study tours and internships in Shanghai and Hong Kong. This year, 25 students from China are part of the University’s student body, says Josephine Yung, one of the festival’s founders and the University’s vice president of International Programs and Development.
“Saint Martin’s University brings students from around the world. The Dragon Boat Festival is a cultural event that helps us celebrate that diversity and bring together the community in the spirit of fun,” Yung says.
The Dragon Boat Festival welcomes the support from organizations throughout the region. Sponsors are the Port of Olympia, the Cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, Thurston County, 94.5 ROXY, Capital Mall, Capitol City Press, Hanson Subaru, Olympia Federal Savings, Olympia Orthopedic Associates and UW Medicine.
Opportunities to participate as a team are still available. For more information about Saint Martin’s Dragon Boat Festival, visit www.stmartin.edu/dragonboat.
Saint Martin’s University is an independent, four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedic¬tine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 25 majors and seven graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,100 undergraduate students and 340 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and 350 more students to its extended campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at www.stmartin.edu.
For additional information:
Development Associate of Fundraising Events and Dragon Boat Festival chair
Office of Institutional Advancement
Office of Media Relations