By Barbara J. Little
If you’ve ever glimpsed a long, yellow boat slinking through town and wondered what the heck, it was likely Revelstoke’s dragon boat heading up to Martha Creek Park. Here’s your chance to hop in the boat if you’ve wanted to try the sport.
The Dam Survivors team is looking for water warriors — get fit, get wet, get ready to race and have a ton of fun! We’re a wacky bunch, a mix of gals and guys from 16 to 74, (nuts really, to train all summer for races that are over in two minutes and change), but — Oh! — the thrill of the chase! Contrary to common belief, you do not have to be a cancer survivor to dragon-boat.
It’s not just about winning but showing up, doing our best. We have a blast at competitions. They’re like Renaissance Fairs with colourful tents, banners flying, splashy team jerseys and artisans selling their wares. Over 2,000 competitors will converge on the sandy shoreline and warm waters of Skaha Lake at season’s end.
Every summer I think about trying something else but once I’m in that boat, the camaraderie, gorgeous landscapes and endorphin highs become addictive. Often ours is the only boat on Lake Revelstoke, a quiet, magical place shared with beavers, loons and otters. The stresses of the day fall away.
Dragon boats have roots in an ancient Chinese folk ritual of contending villagers and have been used in competition in the Orient for over 20 centuries. Canadians first saw them demonstrated at the 1986 Vancouver Olympics.
The sport exploded in the nineties. Oncologists discovered that the position of an arm high above the body during the stroke helped reduce lymph oedema, common in breast cancer patients who’ve had underarm lymph glands removed.
Tricky to master, the technical paddle stroke is unlike any other. It’s a Zen thing demanding absolute focus and synchronicity. Many become one as we dig deep and pull hard together. It takes a lot to plane an 800 lb boat from a dead stop.
The boat carries up to 20 paddlers and a steersperson. At races a drummer, who commands and encourages the team, is added. The pace of the piston-like stroke is set by the two leads in the front seat.
“It’s all about focus and the timing of the stroke,” says Ginger Shoji, the Dam Survivors’ veteran coach. “We’ve beaten boats carrying as many as 10 beefy men because we were paddling in time and they were not.”
At most festivals breast cancer survivors, dolled up in pink tutus, hats, feather boas, even pink life jackets, have their own race. The traditional carnation ceremony is a poignant, tearful acknowledgement of women who did not survive and the thousands more who have. After a moment of silence the paddlers and spectators toss hundreds of pink carnations onto the lake.
“I first started paddling with a breast cancer survivors’ team in Salmon Arm,” Ginger said. “I paddle to prove there is life after cancer.”
Ginger and fellow breast cancer survivor Joan Eley fund-raised like mad in 2005 to raise $11,000 to bring a boat to Revelstoke.
Promoting cancer awareness is a tenet of the Lake Revelstoke Dragon Boat Society. Every June we kick off the Relay for Life. Escorted by bagpipes, cancer survivors walk the first lap together after passing under a paddle arch held high by team members, a much appreciated tradition.
Part of our annual fundraising proceeds goes quietly to help the Revelstoke Cancer Support Group. They in turn provide financial relief for cancer patients travelling out of town overnight for appointments or treatments.
Come paddle, the first few are free. Practices start May 22; meet at 6:15 pm Mondays and Thursdays at the U-haul parking lot beside the Frontier. Paddles and life jackets are provided.
For more information visit www.revelstokedragonboats.org or call Ginger at 837-4129 or Barbara at 837-2445.
Barbara J. Little is a long-time — and enthusiastic — member of the Lake Revelstoke Dragon Boat Society and the Dam Survivors racing team.