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Local View: Dragon boating takes a boatload of teamwork

If you're one of the fortunate, your coworkers are like your second family. Next to your real kin, they are the folks with whom you spend the most time. You break bread with them around the lunchroom table, share photos of dogs and babies and vacations, and debate philosophical issues and politics.

If you're one of the lucky ones, these are the people you know would host a spaghetti-dinner fundraiser for you should your family face a tragedy. They are the ones who hand you their car keys when you're in a jam or donate their vacation days when someone has to be on extended medical leave.

No matter the petty annoyances, the challenges, the disagreements, the people you work with, if you're really blessed, are your pack, your tribe, your people.

Most of the time, this relationship works best if everyone knows their role. Here at the Duluth News Tribune, a lot of hands keep the plates spinning and the balls in the air. Every day, because of a bunch of people working together, a newspaper lands on doorsteps. Advertisers get their ads placed. The community gets its news. Delivery issues are resolved. Headlines get written. Words are (mostly) spelled correctly.

It takes a well-oiled team.

In that spirit, the News Tribune will take part in the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival tomorrow. What this means is that 22 people from our building will pile into a boat together and hopefully stay upright. Because we probably aren't going to win, our goal is pretty much just to have fun.

But, first, we had to learn to paddle together.

This, it turns out, is not for sissies. There are rules and commands and safety measures to be heeded.

At first go, we looked like a boatload of paddles stabbing at squirrels randomly dropped from the sky onto Barkers Island.

Thankfully, our coach, News Tribune photographer Clint Austin, is an experienced dragon boater and steerer. Clint taught us the power of paddling together. Even moving together without paddling inched the boat forward. Imagine what 22 people working in unison could do? And we did indeed have to imagine this several times prior to it actually becoming a reality.

It's worth noting that forming a dragon boat team takes more than recruiting enough butts to fill seats. There's registration, choosing and ordering team shirts, practices, fundraising for the charity it benefits, and arranging food for the daylong event.

I must say I learned a lot about the folks with whom I work as we prepared for the big day. Type A, Type B, and Types Such as Myself who organize their lives with Post-it Notes and hastily scribbled cryptic messages on their hands quickly rose to the surface.

Those among us who prefer spreadsheets and lists and software for this sort of thing were at times barely speaking to those of us who equate organization with showing up at work with a lunchbox and our shoes on. There were moments indeed when we appeared to be trying to get cats to march in a parade.

I'll be honest, I've never been one for hokey "team-building" exercises where folks head to the wilderness to learn to trust each other by belaying someone up and down a rock wall. I'd rather learn that you have my back through extensions of daily kindness.

But as we piled out of that boat after our first practice, hands were extended across departments. Accountants helped writers. Customer-service representatives helped editors. Salespeople helped graphic artists. In an industry where we often are divided by walls and silos, we were all in this boat together. At the end of the night, there were smiles on the faces of even the most cynical among us.

Tomorrow, when our drummer yells, "paddles up!" we'll hopefully stroke the water in concert. We probably won't find ourselves on the podium at the end of the day, but we'll propel ourselves across the finish line as a boatload of unique individuals working together as a team.

And that is what the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival is all about.

Paddles up!

Holly Henry is editor of the Woman Today magazine, the Duluth.com magazine and website, and Moms and Dads Today. She works out of the News Tribune newsroom.

Check it out

The annual Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival is today and Saturday at Barkers Island in Superior.

Today: There'll be celebratory music, dancing, and a craft fair from 4 p.m. to midnight.

Saturday: Gates open at 6 a.m. Races begin at 9 a.m. followed by an awards ceremony. The event is expected to be wrapped up by 10 p.m. Food will be available for purchase throughout the day.

The course: 400-meter races will be held along a straight course in Superior Bay between Barkers Island and the mainland.

Viewing: The shoreline provides ample space for spectators and activities.

Getting there: Shuttle buses between Mariner Mall and Barkers Island run all day, departing approximately every seven to 10 minutes.

To learn more: For a full schedule of events and other information, go to lakesuperiordragons.com.

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