By: Teresa Douglas, PhD
Dragon boating is a 2000-year-old sport originating from ancient China where paddlers would race in canoe-style dragon shaped boats. In the past few decades, the sport has gained popularity among competitive sports athletes, but has also prospered among non-profit and hobby interest groups.
“It uses predominantly upper extremity and trunk muscles, and the improvement in strength has a carry-over effect to day-to-day activity. The training intensity can be varied simply by pulling harder. This is important because, with a wide variety in ages and athletic abilities, each paddler can still experience a training effect...Dragon boating is a team sport that builds harmony and a feeling of togetherness.” (Abreast in a Boat, McKenzie 1998)
His results, published in 1998, contradicted the current medical beliefs about exercise and lymphedema. The women who had been dragon boating did not have an increased incidence of lymphedema or related health complications. They also showed improved quality of life. Not only did Dr. McKenzie’s work lead to a paradigm shift so that doctors now recommend resistance exercises to control lymphedema, but it inspired many within the breast cancer community to take up dragon boating. This sport has now grown among the breast cancer survivor community to be a symbol of hope and full life after breast cancer. In addition, the exercise and comradery essential to dragon boating benefit survivors’ physical health, emotional wellbeing, and provides a support network all while raising the banner of breast cancer awareness.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2002. I was a lucky one stage 0 to 1. Had a lumpectomy, 7 weeks of radiation and 5 years of tamoxifen. In 2004 I received an email telling me about this new sport. I stepped up and said yes. I haven't stopped… I love this new to me Dragon Boat sport, I have met so many wonderful women around the world. We have touched the lives of so many survivors letting them know there is quality life after cancer. I am now a member of four different teams. This year I raced with International Pink Sisters in Spain, Paddlers Without Boarders in Switzerland and Germany, Linked in Pink in Burlington Vermont. Then there is my home team we have paddled Mobile, AL and LaGrange, GA.“
Linda Waggoner Evans, team captain and 2 time breast cancer survivor, feels truly blessed to be able to participate on Dragon Boat Atlanta's team,
“This group of people have become my support group and friends. The thrill of crossing the finish line the first time is fantastic. You realize as a cancer survivor you are still alive and there is much you can accomplish. You give it your all and are blessed to be part of a wonderful group of people all working together to achieve the same goal--crossing the finish line. “
You can always find the Dragon Boat Atlanta team, with Dr. Douglas on board, at Lake Lanier’s Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. This year the festival will be on Saturday September 9th with dozens of competing teams from around the region. The team will be hoping for a quick finish and win, but most of all hoping to show off the strength that comes after recovery from a life threatening illness.
Here’s wishing the Dragon Boat Atlanta paddlers a swell of good fortune and good health on September 9th and long into the future.
To learn more about Atlanta’s breast cancer awareness dragon boat team and its many paddlers, you can visit the Dragon Boat Atlanta website at http://www.dragonboatatlanta.org/ or check out the Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/atldragonboatteam/ or the Meetup page at https://www.meetup.com/Dragon-Boat-Atlanta-Meetup/.
McKenzie, Donald C. (August 1998). "Abreast in a Boat – a race against breast cancer" (PDF). Canadian Medical Association Journal. 159: 376–378.
Cheifetz, Oren, Louise Haley, and Breast Cancer Action. “Management of Secondary Lymphedema Related to Breast Cancer.” Canadian Family Physician 56.12 (2010): 1277–1284.
Courneya KS, Mackey JR, McKenzie DC. Exercise for breast cancer survivors: research evidence and clinical guidelines. Phys Sportsmed. 2002 Aug;30(8):33-42
Stefani L, Galanti G, Di Tante V, Klika RJ, Maffulli N. Dragon Boat training exerts a positive effect on myocardial function in breast cancer survivors. Phys Sports med. 2015 Jul;43(3):307-11
Mitchell TL, Yakiwchuk CV, Griffin KL, Gray RE, Fitch MI. Survivor dragon boating: a vehicle to reclaim and enhance life after treatment for breast cancer. Health Care Women Int. 2007 Feb;28(2):122-40
Awaken the dragon, 2011 video documentary. Director: Liz Oakley