Dragon boat racing is a 2,500 year-old Chinese sport and one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. Current dragon boats are still similar to those raced in ancient China: slender, sleek hulls carry 20 paddlers, one drummer, and one steer person. Races vary in length from 250 to 2000 meters, and the speed of the boat is determined by the efficient timing of the team. A typical boat is about 42-feet in length and can travel over 10-13 feet per second in the water with the team’s stroke rate averaging 70-80 strokes per minute.
Dragon boating for breast cancer survivors emerged after Don McKenzie, MD, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia, debunked the widely held belief that repetitive upper body exercise in breast cancer survivors can lead to lymphedema (a swelling in the arms and/or legs caused by the removal of or damage to lymph nodes during treatment). He believed that following a special exercise and training program would not increase the risk, but would actually improve quality of life. To test his hypothesis, he launched “Abreast in a Boat” in 1996, the first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team that ultimately proved the validity of his theory. Since then, hundreds of breast cancer survivors across the world have formed dragon boat teams and are paddling and racing regularly—promoting good health, individual and group empowerment, and breast cancer awareness. An emerging body of research suggests physical activity not only has a positive effect on quality of life following a diagnosis of cancer, but it may also improve survival.