Dragon boat racing began in Southern China. It is suggested that dragon boats were used to chase evil away, but boats were also raced in competitions between villages. Here on the West Coast dragon boat festivals and races have become incredibly popular in the last few years, particularly among breast cancer survivors. According to The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.cbcf.org), “The Dragon Boat movement for breast cancer survivors began in 1996 as the result of a groundbreaking study led by Dr. Don McKenzie, professor of sports medicine at the University of British Columbia. Dr. McKenzie set out to investigate the link between upper body exercise and the development of lymphedema in women with breast cancer. Lymphedema is the significant swelling some women experience due to accumulation of fluid in the arm and chest after the removal of lymph nodes for the treatment of breast cancer. Twenty-four women, all with a history of breast cancer, volunteered for Dr. McKenzie’s research project and began training as dragon boaters. At the conclusion of the study, Dr. McKenzie found that despite rigorous repetitive upper-body exercise, which dragon boating required, no new cases of lymphedema occurred and none of the existing cases progressed. In addition, the women who participated showed a marked improvement in both physical and mental health. From this initial project in Vancouver, an international movement of breast cancer survivor Dragon Boat teams has evolved.”
There are now more than 25 dragon boat teams in BC made up of breast cancer survivors, and a second wave of popularity has started with seniors. Dragon boating offers many benefits to seniors. They can begin at any skill or fitness level, but in order to develop as one unit in a boat, they must practice together, developing communication, timing, and focus. Participation builds physical strength, flexibility, and cross-brain stimulation, and the comraderie and competition keeps social skills sharp.
Last Sunday my family and I had the opportunity to join others from my Families With Children From China group for a dragon boat lesson at the Gorge Rowing and Paddling Centre in Victoria. Fifty one of us, aged 3 to senior, piled into three dragon boats and spent an hour and a half learning how to paddle, running drills, laughing, and enjoying the spectacular Gorge Waterway. We were lucky enough in our boat to be coached by women from two different Victoria teams, including the Gorge-Us Gals 50+ team who had just arrived back after winning fourth place at the Seniors Games.
My review of dragon boating? Two paddles up! Everyone was active and enjoyed themselves. There were no complaints, even from the youngest children, and there was plenty of laughter and learning. We finished with a race between the three boats, and everyone left tired and elated. The only blot on the day was the fact that our boat lost the race, in spite of the fact that we were clearly the superior team (based on the impressive noise of our team cheer). <grin>