By: Bill Velasco
From “The Game of Life” (The Philippine Star) May 4, 2013
(Bill Velasco is a popular sports columnist who has known the ins and outs of local dragon boating. He joined us for the dragon boat fiesta, and this is his report.)
It took just four months, but with a decade of intent behind it, the second Cobra PDBF International Club Crew Challenge turned out to be a huge success in a new venue with new organizers and a new incentive for paddlers to participate: unity. The athletes were clearly excited to be all on one playing field again, feeling the kinship of having been world champions in two different world organizations.
A group called Tapok Tapok Bol-Anon had been casually meeting once a week to play basketball, tennis and other sports, and enjoy fellowship with each other. They exchanged stories, talked about their childhood, played their games, enjoyed their common memories and had a lot of fun. But their conversations always inadvertently headed in the same direction.
“We would always ask ourselves ‘What can we do for Bohol? What can we do for Bohol?’ Finally, we decided to do this event,” said Maj. Gen. Charly Holganza, head of the organizing committee. “Even with the short lead time, we decided it was worth a try.”
But prior to that, it had taken a while to gently coax the conservative business community in Bohol to be more open and try something new. Traditionally, residents would watch new ideas develop, then try it themselves. But as the saying goes, nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. Dragonboat would be more than a showcase event, it would be the safe laboratory for Bohol to come out of its shell and step into the spotlight.
There was a lot of work to be done. Holganza had been commanding officer of the National Development Support Command (NADESCOM), the military arm which coordinates and liaises with communities around the country wherein the military performs its socio-civic duties and assists in community protection and development. He and his compatriots put together a team that talked to sponsors, local governments, hotels and resorts, transport suppliers, tour groups, and freight companies to ship four competition dragonboats to Bohol. A group of media was also invited to witness this daring new venture.
At the breathtaking and placid Tagbilaran Strait, this writer witnessed the transformation of the miraculous Dauis Church’s backyard. It became a thrumming beehive of activity. No less than 532 paddlers from all over the country jumped at the chance to join, despite the overlap with a major dragonboat race in Boracay. The Bohol organizers hope that in succeeding editions, they can schedule their events back-to-back to make each event more attractive, particularly for foreign participants. At least three overseas teams have already asked to be invited to the next PDBF International Club Crew Challenge in Bohol.
“The competition level was raised so many notches higher with the entry of the Navy,” Holganza acknowledges. “Clearly, the strong challenge posed by the Navy – albeit a new one – has inspired the other teams to work even harder to showcase their extraordinary skills. Truly, the ‘Battle of Champions’ has brought to Bohol’s stage the best talents in the world. Kudos to Lake Buhi, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. Any one of this quartet can rule the dragon boat world. In any stage. Foreign or local. And we were doubly blessed to have seen them compete together for the first time in two and a half years. Truly an event worth remembering. The rest of the teams are also all winners, if only for the experience to pit paddles with the best in the world.”
Another great story was fourth-seeded Philippine Coast Guard’s strong showing, winning four of nine gold medals staked and upsetting the fancied Army, Navy and Lake Buhi, shaking off constant strong finishing kicks by other contenders. Lake Buhi, composed mainly of fisherfolk, was unsure if they could put together the resources to make it to Bohol. But their unlikely triumphs continued, as their men and women put out another powerful effort, stroking to three golds. Army took the remaining two.
“The event provided us many lessons as well as poignant episodes,” Holganza adds. “From the victories, the defeats, the glory, the gore, there were many take-aways from the 2nd Cobra-PDBF International Club Crew Challenge. We were able to stage the show successfully. It may not have been perfect; it may not have been without its share of heartaches; but certainly, we collectively did ourselves proud for having hosted the competition.”
Truer words were never spoken.