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Bethany seniors paddle to the beat of their own drum

A dragon boat team from Bethany plans to compete in the Stars & Stripes River Festival on June 29 on the Oklahoma River
by Adam Kemp Modified: June 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm •  Published: June 20, 2013

John Thistelton squeezes into a tiny seat at the head of the boat with drumsticks in his hands, hoping not to fall in.

The instructor calls for attention, raising his hands to silence the chatter as more than a dozen racers hold their wooden paddles high above their heads.

When given the signal, Thistelton, 79, starts the beat slowly, matching each drum strike with the racers' pace.

Boom ... One! Boom ... Two! Boom ... Three! Boom ... Four!

The group begins to pick up speed, and before long the racers are cruising down the Oklahoma River, pushing past the finish line.

“Come about,” coach Travis Pace shouts at them from the back of the boat. “Let's do it again.”

Janis Cramer helped put the dragon boat team together through members of the Bethany YMCA. Most of the team members are 60 years or older, and some are competing in a sport for the first time in decades.

Cramer, 65, said she felt it was a great activity to keep her healthy and fit.

“It's something older people can do,” she said.

“I'm not saying it's not strenuous because it is, but it's a good workout, and it's fun and you get to know people because it's a community effort.”

Dragon boat racing is a water sport that has roots dating back 2,000 years in southern China. Traditionally, the nearly 60-foot-long boats are dressed with fierce dragon heads, colorful bodies and elaborate tails. The trademark of the sport is the drummer that sits on board the boat to hammer out a beat that the participants follow.

The team from Bethany plans to compete in the Stars & Stripes River Festival on June 29 as just one of two noncorporate teams. Nearly half of the money needed to compete was raised by the members, and the other half was matched by the YMCA.

John Imel, 74, said he competed in nearly every sport growing up, and that dragon boat racing requires just as much teamwork as any of them.

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by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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