PORTLAND, Ore. -- This Rose Festival, thousands of people will gather along the Willamette River at Waterfront Park, to watch the annual Dragon Boat Race.
Among the 20 paddle-wielding members of The Soundwaves dragon boat team are two men and a woman who have visual impairments. They also have guide dogs who join them on the boat during practices.
“They're kind of our mascots,” said Braden Dashney, whose golden lab, Fonzi, is always by his side.
“It’s easy to talk yourself out of something and say, ‘I can't do this because I'm visually impaired,’ ” said Dashney. “I tend to jump in and just deal with problems as they arise.”
Dashney met Fonzi, through Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization that transformed how he lives.
“Fonzi has been amazing. It's so much more efficient to get around with a guide dog than a cane if you're visually impaired,” Dashney said.
The dogs don't ride along during competition. “They're dead weight,” said Dashney. But in practice, the team rallies around them.
“Everybody’s hand kind of finds a dog,” said George Demas, a team member and longtime sponsor of The Soundwaves. “You just want to get a pet in … they're such endearing animals,” he said.
On race day, there will be winners and losers. Even so, Dashney said he and his teammates know they've already left life's biggest challenges in their wake.
“You leave all your troubles and worries on the dock,” he said.
The Rose Festival Dragon Boat Race was scheduled for June 10 and 11 at Waterfront Park. Those interested in making a donation to Guide Dogs for the Blind can do so here.