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Post-treatment, breast cancer survivors may experience some limitations to their prior level of physical ability. This can be improved by dragon boat paddling.
Dragon boating is an upper body activity that is non-weight bearing, therefore associated with less injury. It is shown to improve range of motion that carries over into daily life. Attending 1 or more practices per week can help to regain strength, improve fitness levels, lower the risk of lymphedema and provide a great support group with those who have taken a similar journey.
In 1996, Dr. Don McKenzie, a Canadian Professor of Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiologist, challenged the prevailing medical thinking that women treated for breast cancer should avoid rigorous upper body exercise for fear of developing lymphedema, a debilitating and chronic side effect of treatment.
Looking to develop a program to determine the impact of exercise on breast cancer survivors, he chose dragon boat paddling as the epitome of strenuous, repetitive upper body exercise. He trained twenty-four breast cancer volunteers in a gym, introduced them to dragon boats and taught them paddling techniques. At the end of a three-month season on the water none had lymphedema.
The women found they were fitter, healthier, and happier. They loved the camaraderie and support of their fellow paddlers and had regained some control over their lives. They named their team ‘Abreast In A Boat’ and began inviting other survivors to share in their discovery.
Over the years, a grass roots movement spread throughout Canada and was introduced to other countries by breast cancer survivors. These inspirational individuals could not be stopped.
The Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat phenomena continued to spread. Representatives from different countries joined together to paddle in different places around the world. There are now crews on six continents. In 2005, a celebration of the start of Abreast In A Boat took place in Vancouver, Canada, an international event with over 2000 breast cancer survivors from around the world. Further international festivals followed in Australia, Peterborough, Ontario Canada, Sarasota, Florida U.S.A, Florence Italy, and the most recent in New Zealand.