City of Williamstown

Williamstown, KY

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Dragon Boats

The origin of dragon boat racing can be traced back to ancient China. The variety of folklore that addresses the genesis of the sport does little to explain how it has survived for over 2500 years, making it the oldest on water team sport in the world. Even more outstanding, dragon boat racing is the fastest growing on water team sport in the USA. The breast cancer survivor (BCS) component serves only to accelerate the growth of dragon boat festivals around the globe.

The origin of dragon boat racing in the tri-state is a bit easier to document. The concept of dragon boat racing as a part of Paddlefest was first suggested as a means to attract more people to the Serpentine Wall and keep the paddlers there after they got off the river. This idea seemed to churn in the collective unconscious of the Paddlefest Committee for several years and resurfaced with war canoe races between the ice breakers and the public landing.

It was about this time that one of the committee members, Julie Heenan, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Julie’s oncologist suggested to her caregivers to encourage her to engage in some kind of project or activity to help take her mind off the disease and the aggressive chemo treatments. In response, one of the war canoes was painted pink and Julie filled it and the other two 32’ canoes with breast cancer survivors, their family members and caregivers.The pink canoe became the flag ship of Paddlefest.

Unfortunately, the treatment given to many women with breast cancer leads to a lower quality of life and the threat of a very painful side effect known as lymphedema. Women are told not to lift babies, carry groceries, run vacuum cleaners, get shots or have blood pressure taken from the affected arm.

That’s a pretty dire prognosis for a paddler.

This also bothered a sports physician and kayaker, Dr. Don McKenzie M.D. fromVancouver, B.C. He conducted a landmark study that proved that the repetitive motion required of dragon boat paddlers was actually beneficial to breast cancer survivors. A Health Educator from Three Rivers District Health Department stumbled upon this research and discovered the growing number of breast cancer survivors that were forming dragon boat teams including a team in Indiana and two inOhio. He wrote a grant to the Komen Foundation to purchase a dragon boat and help form the Blue Grass State’s first BCS team, the Kentucky Thorough-Breast “Surviving in Sync”.

The team’s first race began under the Purple People Bridge along the Serpentine Wall during Paddlefest 2009. With the help of Paddlefest they created their very own festival atA.J.JollyLakein 2010. The Kentucky Thorough Breast BCS Team took first place in their division at the International Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Festival in Windsor,Ontarioin 2011 and this year the Kentucky Thorough Breast team will host the first Paddlefest Dragon Boat Festival onLakeComoat Paddlefest 2012.

For more information on the tri-states own BCS dragon boat team visit

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