Testing the depths of their character

Getting into a dragon boat requires discipline, determination and courage, Xing Wen reports.

Perpendicular to the starting line, five slender dragon boats bob gently on the surface of the water, separated into different channels marked with bright yellow buoys. The setting is almost serene and gives no indication of the anguish and pain that is about to come.

“Nanjing University!” came the amplified voice from the starter, shattering the silence.

In answer, a throbbing drumbeat emanates from the university’s brightly painted vessel as if it is an angry creature of the deep, roused from its slumber.

In chorus, the 10 teammates, with their paddles suddenly hoisted aloft, yell a definitive and defiant “Hey!”

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The response is part of the ritual-the warm-up act, if you will-of dragon boat racing, as it helps stiffen resolve, boost morale and show opponents the crew’s determination.

This is also the moment that Liu Minyi, a 19-year-old from Nanjing University, feels her heart go thump-thump-thump as her senses hone to the sharpness of a razor’s edge.

Then the starting gun blasts, and the team is liberated as their stored energy propels the boat forward, paddles slicing through the water in mechanical precision.

“Sometimes I couldn’t open my eyes as the person in front of me paddled so fiercely that the water splashed my face,” recalls the sophomore. “We had to keep up that intensity for the entire 500-meter race.”

Races were held across the country in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival which fell on June 7 this year.

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