LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Many of you are counting down the days until summer and exactly two months from April 22, thousands of paddlers will venture out onto the Mississippi River for the 7th annual Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival in La Crosse.
The race benefits Mayo Clinic’s Center for Breast Care. Every year there is an ambassador for the event, a local breast cancer survivor who supports the cause. The 2019 Dragon Boat Festival ambassador is Lisa Mellen.
Once a week at the Mayo Clinic gym in La Crosse it’s a sea of pink. One stroke at a time, a team of women practice for the upcoming Dragon Boat Race.
“It’s exhilarating. I can have a horrible day but once I get in the boat all the focus is on paddling and all of that goes away,” said Lisa Mellen the 2019 Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival ambassador.
It was seven years ago that Mellen had one of the toughest days of her life. She was getting ready for a trip to Hawaii and found a lump on her right breast.
“I was standing straight and one of my friends named me ‘Princess Standing Tall’.” She came home, went to the doctor, and got her diagnosis. But her spirit wasn’t broken.
“She really embodies dragon boat and has the spirit all survivors can look up to. She’s a great friend and support,” described Heidi Odegaard, Community Event Coordinator at Mayo Clinic Health System.
Lisa beat cancer and got a team together for the first Dragon Boat Race just a few months after her diagnosis. Throughout her journey she got another nickname.
“I went to Women’s Health and she [a nurse] told me that my body was adjusting from my surgeries and she called me a warrior. I take the warrior part seriously, not the princess part.”
This warrior has her army beside her. “Being in the boat, we’re all warriors. We’re all together now fighting in the dragon boat which is much more fun than fighting cancer.”
She’s ready to take on the water just like she tackled breast cancer, with her biggest supporters along for the ride.
This year is the 7th annual race. Funds raised also will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse. It is set to take place on Saturday, June 22 at Copeland Park. To sign up for the race or to volunteer at the event head to the website bigbluedragonboat.com.