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Back in February of 1996, Dr. Donald C. McKenzie, MD, PhD of the Sports Medicine Centre, University of British Columbia recognized that post cancer treatment care was sorely lacking. So he got together a group of 24 breast cancer survivors, aged 24 to 62, and formed a dragon boat team!. The project was named Abreast in a Boat. Today, dragon boating has become a popular water sport, with chapters worldwide. In our dragon boat series, meet the Springfield Dragon Rays located in Springfield, Mass.

 

 

After having lymphoids removed, it’s been great exercise for me, and although I have numbness, this group gets me motivated to get stronger at every practice.

– Kathy Wheeler

 

Who are the Springfield Dragon Rays and why was the team created?

Our organization was established in 2013 with help from a Rays of Hope grant. The team is a division of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club (PVRC), a 501(c)3 nonprofit which operates a recreational facility in the North End of Springfield with the mission to promote river-based sporting activities, to develop river access, and encourage recreation in the Greater Springfield metropolitan area. PVRC board members were interested in bringing dragon boating to Springfield because they had friends and family members in other states who had benefitted from participating in the sport.

Springfield Dragon Rays

Photo Credit: Springfield Dragon Rays

Today, the Springfield Dragon Rays paddling team is a mix of almost 40 novice, recreational, and competitive paddlers who come together in their love for being on the water. Dragon Rays are diverse in age, background, and athletic ability, and more than one-third of the team are cancer survivors. Membership is open to both men and women, and the team actively encourages participation by breast cancer survivors and their supporters. Because of the Rays of Hope grant, breast cancer survivors can join the team at no cost.

Why does dragon boating attract so many people including breast cancer survivors?

In Springfield, the opportunity just to go out on the River is a huge draw. Evening practices throughout water season offer pleasant scenery; sightings of heron, eagles, and other birds; foliage; and sunsets. For many, the feeling of serenity is healing. But it’s not all gliding in still waters.

Springfield Dragon Rays

Photo Credit: Springfield Dragon Rays

Dragon Rays also enjoy the challenge of training for competitions and building up their strength and stamina. Paddling exercises the entire body, and keeps the mind alert too since paddlers have to respond rapidly to commands coming from the coach or steersperson.

During the winter months, the team continues to meet to exercise together to keep in shape for Spring.

One more great benefit is the feeling of belonging. The members learn how to work together to move the boat and they also enjoy time together socializing and volunteering for the club.

Can you provide us some comments from some of your survivors about their experience with dragon boating and lymphedema?

Kathy Wheeler, who is new to dragon boating this summer, says, “Becoming a dragon boater has been a very rewarding experience. I’ve enjoyed meeting and paddling with both cancer and non cancer supporters. After having lymphoids removed, it’s been great exercise for me and although I have numbness, this group gets me motivated to get stronger at every practice. The men and women that I have met are wonderful and have encouraged me every step of the way”.

Why should people thinking about dragon boating join your team?

Springfield Dragon Rays

Photo Credit: Springfield Dragon Rays

For most of our members, the Dragon Rays Team offers a perfect combination of exercise, nature, and camaraderie. We encourage new people to visit us to see if dragon boating is the right sport for them. If it is, they’ll find that they receive even more benefits by committing to the practice schedule, and by participating in team events and activities as a volunteer. This takes us back to the earlier comment about “belonging.” People miss out on that great feeling if they only show up once in a while. And they will find it challenging to learn the finer points of the sport without attending practices regularly. Accordingly, we work hard to ensure that our novice members will become successful puddlers.

We encourage people to try out dragon boating to see if it’s the right sport for them. For many, dragon boating is a perfect combination of exercise, nature, and camaraderie.

Click here to learn more about the Springfield Dragon Rays

Photo credit: Springfield Dragon Rays

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