LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Those who won the battle with Breast Cancer, and those who fought and lost, were all honored at the 7th annual Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival, Saturday, at Copeland Park.
The races started at 8 a.m. There were 33 teams competing for first place. There were two rounds that each team had to participate in. To determine their place in the championship, their first and second round times were added together. The teams with the lowest accumulated times would compete in the final championship. The teams covered 300 meters in the Black River, along Copeland Park.
After the final second round race ended, the teams gathered together around the stage to honor the breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer Survivor ambassador for the festival, Lisa Mellon, spoke on stage about her diagnosis and her fight. She competed with her team in the races and couldn’t wait for the championship. Being on the team with other breast cancer survivors brings a whole new meaning to the dragon boating.
“It’s a great opportunity for survivors to have a bond and comradery, ” Mellen said, ” A place where we can be paddlers, warriors, and not just breast cancer patients. It’s a great way to heal and feel strong.”
Twenty years ago, women who had breast cancer surgery were often told to be careful when being active in order to avoid chronic swelling. In 1996, a Canadian doctor tested that advice by forming the first dragon boat crew made up of breast cancer survivors. He found that the teamwork provided emotional support while exercise actually helped prevent swelling.
Those who lost their lives to the battle were remembered with a flower and a ceremony. Each of the breast cancer survivors were given a flower. The flowers were placed in baskets and given to a youth dragon boat team, that let the flowers float in the river. The teams gave a moment of silence during the ceremony.
Breast cancer survivor Donna Jensen had never competed in the Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival, until Saturday. The ceremony for both survivors and those who lost their life to it, brought her back to a sentimental mindset.
“It was.. a very moving ceremony and for me it kind of marks a point and a journey that kind of marks getting back to being healthy and honoring those who have gone before us with this, ” Jensen said, ” Also remembering those who are struggling with breast cancer right now.”
At the end of the ceremony, the captains of each came together and made a tunnel of paddles for the breast cancer survivors to walk through.
Around 150 breast cancer teams race in other parts of the world. The Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival donates all of the proceeds to the Center for Breast Care and the healthy lifestyles programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse.