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Shipping Out With a Dragon Boat Crew


“You don’t really need legs to participate in dragon boating,” says adaptive fitness specialist Luke Rumbyrt. You don’t need two arms, either—with an adaptive one-arm paddle, you can dig and pull as well as the two-handed paddler seated next to you.

Best of all, Rumbyrt says, you don’t need much—or even any—athletic ability to enjoy yourself. “The five rules of dragon boating are timing, timing, timing, timing, and timing,” he jokes. “If you can get your paddle in the water at the same time as everyone else in your boat, you’re golden.”

Rumbyrt coaches one of the nation’s few all-adaptive dragon boat crews. Known as Team Blue, it’s housed at Ability 360 Sports in Phoenix and co-sponsored by the Arizona Dragon Boat Association and Colorado-based Adaptive Adventures. Already hugely popular in Europe and Asia, adaptive dragon boating is on the rise in the US. Adaptive Adventures now co-sponsors teams in five states, and the list is growing. 

Here are four reasons why amputees are climbing aboard:

1) No “I” in “Team”

“The number-one reason people do this is for the community,” Rumbyrt says. “It isn’t an ‘I’ sport or a ‘me’ sport. Everybody has to be in sync. And when you’re done with a race, you’re all high-fiving because you all accomplished something together.”

2) All Abilities Welcome

Never been in a boat before? No worries. In a single session you can progress from landlubber to old salt. You don’t need finely honed skills, exceptional speed or strength, or specialized equipment (one-arm paddle excepted). “We get people who don’t think they have any athletic ability,” says Rumbyrt, “and it doesn’t take long before they feel the camaraderie and feel like they belong.”

3) Mobility + Fitness

Dragon boat races are sprints lasting 250 to 500 meters—enough distance to give you a good cardio workout, but not long enough to sap your endurance and leave you exhausted for the rest of the day. “It’s great for the shoulders,” Rumbyrt says, “and it can help amputees with mobility and balance.” You don’t need to be a swimmer, by the way. Everyone wears a life vest, and the boats almost never tip.

4) Find Your Niche

There are different jobs in the boat, Rumbyrt explains, so every paddler can find a role that suits their abilities and inclinations. Those in the first two or three rows set the tempo; the middle of the boat (dubbed “the engine room”) supplies the power; and the back rows steer and stabilize.

For information about adaptive dragon boating in your area, contact Adaptive Adventures at [email protected]