Air University teams paddle for charity
The Air Command and Staff College team rows a dragon boat to a second-place finish Saturday at the second-annual Dragon Boat Festival on the Alabama River. (Air Force photo/Christopher Kratzer)
Air University teams paddle for charity

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

9/2/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The race was a photo-finish Saturday at the Dragon Boat Festival in Montgomery, as Air Command and Staff College's Dominators rowed into second place, a fraction of a second behind the University of Alabama's Row Tide in the championship round.

"It was a very close race," said Maj. Birma Gonzalez, ACSC student and paddler. "Considering this was our first year to participate, we were very happy to see how far we made it."

This is the second year Montgomery has hosted a dragon boat race on the Alabama River, and participation doubled to 55 teams. According to its Facebook page, more than 7,500 people attended the race, and teams raised $350,000 for charity.

The race combined ACSC class's mission of community outreach through the monetary donation, personal growth through physical activity and professional development through teamwork.

"It brings all of our goals together," Gonzalez said. "It's not just on paper; it's in practice."

The money raised went to Rebuilding Together Central Alabama and Bridge Builders Alabama, two local charitable organizations. "It's all about having fun and fundraising," Gonzalez said.

Each team consisted of 20 paddlers, one drummer to keep the rhythm and a professional steerer in the back, provided by the dragon boat race committee, for the 250-meter race. Each boat is 44-feet long, three-feet wide and weighs 800 pounds unloaded.

The teams got a couple of practice hours in the boat before Saturday's race.

"Most of us are fairly healthy and fit, so it was getting the technical side down," said Maj. John Wahrmund, ACSC student and dragon boat drummer. "It takes everyone to be on the same page to get maximum power."

The team was excited after the initial race, completing with the fastest time in round one.

The Dominators were happy to outperform the Air War College's Rowing Thunder II team. "We beat Air War College by three boat lengths," said ACSC student and paddler Maj. Knute Adcock.

Since the students are mostly type-A personalities, they took the challenge seriously. "Everyone went into this mode of 'we gotta win'," Wahrmund said.

AWC, which placed second during the championship last year, was not intimidated by the "young pups," said student Lt. Col. Jack Sine. Rowing Thunder II had a laid-back approach as many family members came out to see the competition.

"It's great to be part of the community, and this is a great cause," he said.

Rivalries aside, the Dominators focused on teamwork to race to a second-place finish.

"It seems that at every level of your career, you're learning about teamwork," Wahrmund said. "The race fits well with the goals and the way we develop in the Air Force."