Dragon boat racing began in China more than 2000 years ago when according to folklore a young poet fell afoul of the reigning king. He was banished from court and returned to drown himself in despair. Because the people dearly loved him, they entered the water in large boats to throw rice to nourish his soul and to beat their drums loudly to scare away the fish from his body. The large brightly coloured dragon heads on their boats symbolized the powerful dragons that would protect their young patriot. A hero to the people thereafter, a festival occurred every year to celebrate his young life.
Today, our breast cancer dragon boat team and our beating drum symbolize our fight against deadly enemies.
Breast cancer survivors were introduced to the sport in 1996, as the result of a study by Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine researcher from Vancouver, BC.
"Dr. Don" wanted to disprove the theory that women with breast cancer surgery (lymph node dissection) should not participate in strenuous upper body exercise because it was thought to cause lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm.
His research raised questions about this common belief and through his research other findings emerged: women in the "same boat" enjoyed the benefits of fitness as well as forming supportive relationships as a team. Their quality of life improved!
Thanks to Dr. McKenzie and the paddlers of the original Abreast in A Boat crew, we now have more than sixty breast cancer dragon boat teams across Canada and more than 120 teams world wide, including Australia, China, England, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore and United States.
Festivals and Demos
Dragon boat festivals are the venue for dragon boat teams to race against other teams in open or selected races. Waves of Hope usually attend at least two dragon boat festivals a year. Annually the team explores the feasibility of attending out-of-province and international festivals and has attended several of these in the past in Vancouver, Peterborough and Sarasota, Florida. While the team pays for team registration, other costs (including transportation and accommodation) will vary from festival to festival. These are high energy events that are the accumulation of the team’s training and practices throughout the season. In each heat we test our skill against other teams and ourselves. No matter the outcome, we always win in our lane.
Dotting the Eye of the Dragon
Awakening of the Dragon
There are many variations of this ceremony. It is traditionally repeated each year after the dragon’s rest during the off-season or since the last festival to awaken and give the dragon life. The dragon is the most powerful and superior being in Chinese Culture. The ceremony is about respecting the dragon and getting him into a good and friendly mood.
Someone of importance takes red paint and dots the dragonhead in five points with a brush – both eyes, the tongue and the tip of both horns.
Often a Chinese Priest will give blessing.
Tossing a pink or fuchsia-coloured flower in the water at the end of a breast cancer race has become a breast cancer dragon boat tradition. It’s a tradition that honours those women who have passed away from breast cancer and those who are still fighting. It’s a tradition that partially evolved from a thoughtful gesture by one of the Abreast In A Boat original team back in 1996, the first year of breast cancer dragon boat racing. As she was getting ready for her crew’s first official race, Brenda Hochachka noticed her floribunda rose bush in full bloom. The colour was so similar to the fuchsia-coloured T-shirts the team was wearing that she picked 22 roses and took them to the festival. The women were delighted and following the example of one paddler, tucked roses into their headbands during the race. These were the first blooms carried by a breast cancer dragon boat crew during a race.
Since then there has been a flower ceremony after every breast cancer final. Sometimes the flowers are pink, sometimes they’re fuchsia. Waves of Hope use fuchsia with one white one to remember those members we have lost. The flowers may be roses, carnations, or any other seasonal flower. They may be tossed from the dragon boat or from shore. But what never varies is the reason for the flower ceremony -it gives us a moment to remember those who are no longer with us and to acknowledge the contribution they have made to our lives and to the world.
An honour guard is the raising of paddles to form an arch pathway. It is used at festivals at the end of a special race, such as the rose race or a visiting team’s race, to honour the paddling members as they leave their boat and come ashore. Waves of Hope has also (with the permission of family and clergy), done the honour guard and made a flower bouquet as a loving memorial tribute at the funeral of a deceased member.