Hundreds celebrate Dragon Boat spirit

DAVE MUNDAY/STAFF Victoria Mangione of Baltimore tosses a cornhole bag as Corey Lill of Mount Pleasant reaches for another one at the Dragon Boat Festival’s Brunch on the Bank at Brittlebank Park on Sunday.

Saturday’s fifth-annual Charleston Dragon Boat Festival raised a record-breaking $108,000 to nurture the warrior spirit of those fighting cancer, Director Becca Gosnell said Sunday.

“Our goal was $75,000,” she said. “We were in the low 70s last year. The jump was phenomenal.”

She was among the hundreds of people celebrating — or just enjoying the weather, food, music and people-watching opportunities — at the festival’s first Brunch on the Bank at Brittlebank Park on Sunday. Organizers had counted 1,000 people coming past the $5 ticket table by early afternoon.

The boat races were Saturday. Sixty-four teams, each consisting of 20 people rowing colorful 48-foot boats to the beat of a drum, competed in 250-meter races on the Ashley River. Some of the competitors are simply raising money for the program; others are undergoing chemotherapy fighting for life.

(“The goal is) for people to go from feeling like cancer has taken them down a notch to getting in touch with their inner warrior,” Gosnell said. “So instead of cancer being what your life is all about, it becomes just something you do. We want to show people how to hit the play button on their lives again once they get the diagnosis.”

The crowd ranged from 20-somethings drinking beer and checking out the crowd to 89-year-old Vera Cushing of Yorkshire, England, who turns 90 Tuesday. She gamely played beer-cup Ping-Pong and tossed cornhole bags.

“I get it wrong, but I keep trying,” she said.

She was visiting her daughter, Ann Wilcox of Mount Pleasant.

Gleason Johnston of James Island was wearing artificial flowers in her hair as she celebrated her 32nd birthday at the park.

“It’s a beautiful day and a good cause,” she said.

A group of college-aged youth gave various answers when asked what brought them out.

“The babes,” said Christina Orso of Mount Pleasant. “I’m serious.”

“The great weather,” said Michael O’Brien of Charleston

“An excuse to drink on Sunday,” said Boding Zhang of North Charleston.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.