1,200 paddlers participate in 11th annual festival

marc bence/for metro edmonton


Teams of paddlers, top to bottom, Uhuru, Got Pho? and Alley Kat were neck-and-neck throughout yesterday’s semifinal race at the 11th annual Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival at Government House Park.

Joggers, walkers and cyclists heard a lot more than their iPods as they meandered through the Government House Park near Groat Road on the weekend.

Odds are they also listened to beating drums as 1,200 athletes paddled their way against the current of the North Saskatchewan River in long and brightly coloured boats for the 11th annual Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival.

This year’s festival included 47 teams and hundreds of volunteers in an event aimed at promoting multiculturalism.

“Just paddling in this race, from what I’ve heard, is the best experience ever,” said Teresa Jackson, event co-ordinator for the Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival.

“You have the thrill of the race and you have the adrenaline by pushing these very heavy boats upstream 400 metres in about two to three minutes,”

The event is a gruelling one that sees athletes from all over the province train months in advance in order to compete in the race.

That also includes the 44 members of the Breast Friends Dragon Boat team in Edmonton, with all of its paddlers being breast cancer survivors.

Wearing pink uniforms and some wearing pink wigs, Breast Friends member and cancer survivor Judy Fleetwood says she looks forward to the race every year just to make people aware “there is life after breast cancer.”

“We do this every year and we travel to other festivals like this, just to show that we are active and healthy women,” said Fleetwood.

“We want to show what we can do when you apply yourself. Breast cancer survivors can continue on having healthy lives.”

The Breast Friends have competed in Dragon Boat festivals in Calgary, Winnipeg and are planning a trip to compete in Australia Sept. 22.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, doctors told me that I couldn’t lift anything with my left arm because it would negatively affect my health,” said Fleetwood.

“However, one doctor said you have to use your upper body and dragon boat racing involves a lot of core upper body strength. This is why many breast cancer survivors are becoming dragon boat paddlers.”

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