With Race the River coming up Saturday, the question being asked is: “Why Dragonboating?”
Dragonboating, has become the fastest growing water sport world wide within the last decade, having originated in ancient China. The interesting thing is that the Vancouver medical community had a lot to do with that.
In 1996, Dr. Don McKenzie, a Professor in the Department of Sports Medicine and exercise physiologist, challenged the prevailing medical thinking that women treated for breast cancer should avoid rigorous upper body exercise for fear of developing lymphedema, a debilitating and chronic side effect of treatment.
He developed a program to determine the impact of exercise on breast cancer survivors, and because the Chinese delegation to Expo 86 had left their demonstration dragon boats in Vancouver at the False Creek Rowing Club when they returned home, Dr. McKenzie was able to use dragon boat paddling as the epitome of strenuous, repetitive upper body exercise. He trained twenty-four breast cancer volunteers in a gym for three months, introduced them to dragon boats and taught them paddling techniques.
At the end of the three-month season on the water none of the volunteers had lymphedema.
While Dr. McKenzie’s medical experiment/project was underway, the women found they were fitter, healthier and happier. They loved the camaraderie and support of their fellow paddlers and had regained control of their lives. They realized that dragon boat paddling could become a means to raise awareness of breast cancer and of the ability of survivors to lead normal lives. They named their team ‘Abreast In A Boat’ and invited other survivors to share their exciting experience.
The word spread quickly, and those recovering from other cancers rapidly took note, and formed their own teams. The benefits of the exercise, and the teamwork were also noticed by other groups, and today teams are formed by youth groups, corporate groups, and groups with various disabilities.
In the larger festivals, teams of many disparate backgrounds register and race, including organ transplant recipients, and the visually impaired.
Dragon boating benefits all who participate, regardless of gender, age, or ability.
The two local dragonboat teams, Bravehearts, (survivors of all types of cancer), and River Spirit (founded as a breast cancer team) also have associate members who, although not disease survivors, paddle and support the teams’ aims.
The local dragon boat festival, Race the River, takes place Saturday at Dick Murphy Park. The public is invited to view the races, and take part in the festivities.