There was a resounding theme Saturday from first-time rowers who took to the Brazos River under the scorching sun to help raise money for a cause.

It’s harder than it looks.

Thirteen teams of 20 rowers, plus a drummer, participated in the event’s first year, said Casey Moore, Enrich Seniors executive director. Organizers believe they brought Dragon Boat Racing to Waco for the first time for an event that benefited the nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of seniors in the area.

Halfway through Battle on the Brazos Dragon Boat Festival adjacent to McLane Stadium, organizers were already making plans to hold the event again next year, Moore said. Target Restoration LLC had already agreed to be the title sponsor again, she said.

“It’s been so much fun except it is blazing hot,” she said. “We’re going to pick a different date next year.”

The 40-foot boats, fitted with a dragon head and tail, traveled a 300-meter course down the river, with each team lined up in two rows down the boats. Each team raced three times, while food trucks and vendors lined up on the plaza for spectators to enjoy between races.

Rob Dubois, who rowed with a group from Top Hand Cowboy Church in Valley Mills, said the event was a ton of fun and his team’s strategy was to do as the person in the front did and follow that rhythm.

“It was good. It was fun. It was a lot harder than I expected,” Dubois said. “It was a workout. The distance and you don’t realize how long you’re going to be rowing, that distance, it just burned.”

Cody Shaw rowed with his team the Floating Nuts, one of the three teams that came out from the Mars candy plant.

“We’re really competitive guys in our little area so we decided to get a boat together and come out here and beat these other two Mars groups,” Shaw said. “And we just lost to one of them. We were out of sync.”

Target Restorations fielded two teams. Melissa Naylor, who is also a board member of Enrich Seniors, rowed with team Bears on the Water.

“It was great. It’s physically exerting but it’s fun,” Naylor said. “In the heat of the moment your adrenaline goes and it’s awesome.”

She said her group had never participated in an event like this one before.

“When Casey asked us to be the sponsors, we jumped on board because we think it’s going to be huge,” she said.

Listening to the drummer, who sits in front of the boat to keep a rowing rhythm, is key, she said.

“We learned it’s harder than you would think and you need to keep it together and have some type of rhythm,” Naylor said. “It was fun, and we did it with style.”

Representatives from High Five Dragon Boat, which provided the boats, advised organizers to expect eight teams for the first year, Moore said. Surpassing that number by five is a good sign that Waco was excited about the event, she said. The event raised at least $15,000 for Enrich Seniors, which has four employees and 140 volunteers.

“The thing about it is, the miles that we’ve got on exposure has been huge,” she said. “If we’d had raised $5,000 I would be happy because we’ve gotten so many miles of exposure.”

Enrich Seniors provides care for the elderly across McLennan and Bosque counties. The volunteers work to help elderly residents stay in their homes longer, provide transportation to doctor’s appointments, and offer household repair and yard work, she said.

“Most of our seniors have no one, no family, no friends, no anything,” Moore said. “We’ve got a 97-year-old World War II veteran. We’ve got a beautiful German lady that actually lived in Nazi Germany during the war and lives over here now. They have so much to offer but they’re alone. They are completely alone. So we jump in and try to match up volunteers to go visit and basically go love on them.”

Access to care is the biggest problem the group faces, she said. The nonprofit is working with Prosper Waco and other organizations to try and find a way to provide better transportation for the elderly, she said.

“If the only reason that they have to go to a nursing home is because they don’t have transportation to a doctor, why can’t we help with that?” Moore said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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