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Dragons Abreast – from the beginning

Dragons Abreast was one of the 2nd breast cancer dragon boat teams to form, beginning in November 1997. Eleanor Nielsen founded the team after meeting members of Abreast In A Boat in Vancouver. Early in the team recruitment process, she was joined by Rose Jones and Marilyn Schneider, who helped steer the early years. 33 eager novices made up the first team.   It wasn’t long before there were enough members for 2 crews. Over the years, Dragons Abreast Toronto has engaged in a number of special events.
In 2001, Dragons Abreast held a conference for breast cancer teams in conjunction with the Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival at Centre Island. This was a follow-up to a conference hosted by Abreast In A Boat in 1999. Eleven teams attended, including the first international composite team of Internationally Abreast.
In 2002, the book   How to Ride a Dragon: 22 women with breast cancer tell their stories, written by Michelle Tocher, was published.
This was the dream of our founder at that time and used a story guide sent to all Canadian teams to elicit individual stories and images of the dragon. It was an immediate success and enabled Dragons Abreast to donate close to $25,000.00 to the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative. A second edition of How to Ride a Dragon was published in 2011.   Copies can be obtained through   lulu.com    Proceeds from this edition will be directed to the Canadian Cancer Society for cancer prevention research.
For 7 years, Dragons Abreast collaborated with Jones New York in an annual fashion show in support of Wellspring Cancer Support Centres.
Over the years, Dragons Abreast has competed in Festivals across Canada, in New York City and Australia. Individual team members have paddled in Shanghai, Singapore, Cape Town, Rome, Venice as well as across Canada and the United States.

Breast Cancer and Dragon Boating
The breast cancer dragon boat movement began in 1996. It was started by Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine specialist at UBC, Vancouver, as a small research study. He questioned the logic behind the activity restrictions one of his patients with breast cancer was given. It was common practice to tell women not to engage in strenuous and repetitive upper body exercises post any surgical node dissection and radiation therapy for fear of a debilitating swelling of the arm, called lymphedema. Dr. McKenzie set about testing his theory by recruiting 22 women post breast cancer treatment to make up a dragon boat crew. Carefully monitored, they trained for six months and were launched onto the unsuspecting dragon boat community for the first time at the 1996 Alcan Festival. None of the women developed lymphedema but there was an unexpected outcome. The original 22 refused to stop paddling and set about organizing the structure required to continue their team, Abreast In A Boat. In addition to the physical benefits of increased exercise, team members provide a wealth of support to each other .

Abreast In A Boat really started something. They eagerly helped new teams in other communities and 15 years after the first team started, there are now between 150 & 160 breast cancer teams world-wide.

A few facts about dragon boat racing today in Canada:

  •  Dragon boat has become North America’s fastest-growing adult team sport and is the second-most practiced sport in the world (after soccer).
  •  Dragon boat racing became a fully sanctioned sport in the Year 2000 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia.
  •  Today dragon boat racing is celebrated in many communities across Canada.
  •  The Toronto Chinese Business Association (TCBA) brought dragon boating to Toronto in 1989.
  • In Toronto alone, there are over 200 crews comprising close to 5,000 athletes. Toronto is also home to the two-time world champion men’s crew.

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