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Whitehall rowers take to North Park Lake for charity effort

| Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, 3:07 p.m.
Dragon boat team Whitehall Water Warriors makes its way to shore after a first heat race at North Park Lake on Sept. 24, 2016.
Dragon boat team Whitehall Water Warriors makes its way to shore after a first heat race at North Park Lake on Sept. 24, 2016.
Mike Susick and Krissy Moehling high-five after the Whitehall Water Warriors took part in a dragon boat race at North Park on Sept. 24, 2016.
Louis Raggiunti/For the Tribune-Review
Mike Susick and Krissy Moehling high-five after the Whitehall Water Warriors took part in a dragon boat race at North Park on Sept. 24, 2016.

The Whitehall Water Warriors might not be a household name, but the 20-member crew made an impact on the water and in raising awareness for breast cancer.

The team participated in the first Steel City Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday at North Park Lake. Captained by Whitehall Mayor Jim Nowalk, the crew competed in three races in the community division.

The Whitehall crew reached the finals and finished third, just two-tenths of a second behind the top team.

While rowing for the best time was the goal for each crew, the event was held to raise money for the Pink Steel dragon boat racing crew.

Pink Steel members all are breast cancer survivors, including Nowalk's wife, Tricia. The crew would like to travel to Florence, Italy, to compete in the 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers' Commission Festival.

Tricia Nowalk learned dragon boat racing is good exercise for breast cancer survivors. When members of Pink Steel could invite family members to paddle on the river, Jim Nowalk was hooked.

“I was really taken aback by being out on the river. The trees were green, the sky was blue and the sun was shining,” Jim Nowalk said.

When it came time to find physically fit people to row, Jim Nowalk invited Whitehall police officers to join the crew. Tricia Nowalk recruited several coworkers from the PittVax research team of the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Family Medicine.

Whitehall police Officer David Artman was one of the first to sign up. He said his mother-in-law died from breast cancer.

Seeing the breast cancer survivor team was inspiring. “There were so many survivors there. They are so brave,” Artman said.

As for the race, Artman said he didn't even know what a dragon boat looked like before being asked to participate. He was one of seven Whitehall crew members to paddle a dragon boat for the first time.

“It was a great time. It's definitely a workout. Each race lasts a minute but you're working hard,” Artman said. “I hope we can get a team together next year.”

The Nowalks' neighbors, Chris and Lacey Thomas, didn't hesitate when asked if they wanted to paddle a dragon boat for the first time.

“It's a fun thing to do and you don't often have the opportunitiy to do this,” Lacey Thomas said.

After finishing strong in the first race, Lacey Thomas said, the crew was very excited.

“We were really amazed that we came in with a competitive time. That fired us up for the subsequent races.”

Each boat requires 20 rowers. For the races, 12 men and eight women must row. A drummer is in front, and someone is in back to steer.

The Dragon Boat race in North Park was held for the first time. Twenty-nine teams competed in three divisions: corporate, community and breast cancer survivors. The Cleveland Dragons won the community division.

Each team participated in three heats; teams with the top three average times advanced to the final round. The community division had 17 teams, including the Whitehall Water Warriors.

To enter the event, each community team was charged $800. Jim Nowalk said each member contributed $40 and for the T-shirts, state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, became a sponsor and paid the costs.

Jim Nowalk hinted at a return to the event, vowing the Whitehall crew would bring the first-place trophy back to Pittsburgh.

Jim Spezialetti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5805 or jspezialetti@tribweb.com.

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