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Tug-of-war injuries mar festival

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An unfortunate mishap forced organizers to cut short the seventh-annual International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday afternoon.

Several people were injured on this side of the border during the Backus Community Center's “community pull” tug-of-war between Fort Frances and International Falls, which ran in conjunction with the festival.

Residents on both sides of the upper Rainy River were pulling a rope across the river when the rope on the Canadian side lunged forward with enough force to move a truck the rope was attached to as an anchor.

The ensuing violent jerk of the rope sent participants sprawling across the pavement.

“Our site manager was Kamil Niemczyk, a board member with the Dragon Boat Festival Foundation,” said International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club president Greg Thorstad, who was in Florida over the weekend.

“He [Niemcyzk] was there on-site but not in charge of the [tug-of-war],” he noted.

“We were asked to encourage people who were taking part in the dragon boat festival to go be a part of the international tug-of-war, which we did,” Thorstad added.

"We encouraged people to go down there but it wasn't a requirement by any stretch of the imagination.

“What we've discovered is the rope was lined up in a different spot on the Fort Frances side this year,” Thorstad said.

“Normally, what has happened in the past is the rope is lined up to the east of the fence that surrounds the old wood yard there,” he explained.

“This year, it was lined up west of there," he noted. ”Like it was backed up to the south side of the wood yard fence.

“Because of where it was lined up, it basically made an angle around a street sign post and was apparently anchored to Rick Wiedenhoeft's truck,” he continued.

"I don't know that for certain but that's what I've been told.

“When the tension got on the rope, it rubbed up against that sign and there was enough pressure to bend the road sign at nearly almost a 45-degree angle,” Thorstad recounted.

“When that post let loose, it was basically like cracking a whip. So it put a whip in the rope which caused what happened.”

At least two people were taken to hospital by ambulance while others suffered rope burns and lacerations.

The rope also was anchored to a truck on the U.S. side of the river.

The international tug-of-war had made its return after a five-year absence, but Thorstad noted it won't run in conjunction with the dragon boat festival moving forward.

“What Backus decides to do with it, that's their decision,” he stressed.

“We would like to give the highest praise to the quick and professional actions of John Beaton's first responder group,” said International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club head coach Annely Armstrong-Thorstad.

“Every year they volunteer for our festival, and we just couldn't be more thankful or appreciative of their presence this year.”

“We are really, really fortunate and really happy that the first responders that we had on-site, that were volunteering their time for our festival, were right there,” echoed Greg Thorstad.

“They dove right in and did a phenomenal job.”

Due to the rest of the dragon boat festival being cancelled as a result of the tug-of-war mishap, the championship races did not take place.

As such, the festival champions were determined by taking the cumulative time of the two fastest races for each team in the preliminary heats.

The New Gold “Nuggets” claimed first place with a time of 3:27 (races of 1:45 and 1:42).

The Canada Dragons took second at 3:28 (races of 1:45 and 1:43) while the Kemira “Paper Dragons” placed third with a time of 3:49 (races of 1:56 and 1:53).

The only divisional cup in play this year was the Manufacturer's Cup between the Nuggets and Paper Dragons.

That was determined by taking the winner of the first race of the day between New Gold and Kemira, with Kemira coming out on top.

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