January 20th, 2021

Dragon boats: paddling with a purpose

By Submitted Article on April 29, 2020.

By Wendy Aitkens

For the past 18 years, people have gathered in Lethbridge to participate in a dragon boat festival. Henderson Lake has proven to be one of the premier sites for this competition but who put the first boat into that lake to spark the interest in the sport?

In 1999, three women in this community, finally free of the constraints and trauma of breast cancer surgeries and treatments, were looking for a positive, physical outlet for their returning energy. Over coffee they decided to start with brisk walks at Henderson Lake. As they power walked along the paths, other ideas bloomed. More women joined their group and they went hiking, snowshoeing and whitewater rafting.

They learned of a doctor in Vancouver who encouraged women to paddle to regain upper body strength and this sounded like a promising venture – except they had no boat. A trip to Calgary to watch other ladies paddling in a dragon boat solved that problem when a voyageur canoe and coach were loaned to Lethbridge. More cancer survivors showed an interest and Lethbridge’s first dragon boat team was started.

A unique name was required and the most popular suggestion was “Abreast of ‘bridge” – a bit of wordplay based on the title of the well-known cookbook “The Best of Bridge.” With permission from the book’s delighted publisher, the name became official. In 2001, they raced in the Calgary and Edmonton festivals, winning a medal to their great surprise. The following year, the team participated in Lethbridge’s first dragon boat festival.

Each year since then, the club has entered the cancer survivors’ race and the women’s races winning not only medals but the respect and support of the Lethbridge community. A highlight of the weekend is the rose ceremony organized by the team to honour those who have lost their battle against cancer.

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