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About The Connection


”The connection between breast-cancer survivors and dragon-boat paddling started in 1996 with a Canadian sports-medicine physician named Don McKenzie, who wanted to do research on whether lymphedema, the swelling that often results from surgery for breast cancer, gets better or worse with upper-body exercise. McKenzie questioned the validity of accepted wisdom that discouraged breast cancer patients from participating in strenuous upper body exercise.  He conducted studies and reported the results in the Canada Medical Association Journal, showing that “upper-body exercise has a role in recovery from breast cancer because it can improve range of motion and reverse muscle atrophy, activate skeletal muscle (which may help pump lymph), stimulate the immune system and reset the sympathetic tone of the lymphatic vessels.


He formed a group, Abreast in a Boat, and coached the women through exercises and training. While his research couldn’t quite prove that it helped with lymphedema, he did determine that the swelling didn’t get worse. McKenzie had set in motion a group of women who suddenly had a positive way to deal with a breast-cancer diagnosis. Since then, interest in the sport has blossomed throughout the world, and there are dragon-boat races specifically for breast-cancer survivors around the country.


While Dr. McKenzie’s medical experiment/project was complete, the women found they were fitter, healthier and happier. They loved the camaraderie and support of their fellow paddlers and had regained control of their lives. They realised that dragon boat paddling could become a means to raise awareness of breast cancer and of the ability of survivors to lead normal lives. They named their team ‘Abreast In A Boat’ and invited other survivors to share their exciting experience.


Over the years the movement progressed to other areas in Canada and was introduced to other countries by breast cancer survivors who saw the benefit for survivors. These inspirational individuals started communicating across the miles, providing much support and encouragement to see other survivors reap the benefit of dragon boating and the health and fitness benefits it provided. Special mention should be made also to the amazing awareness made to the public on breast cancer.


Since 1996, as more and more interest came about we saw representatives from different countries joining together to paddle together in different places including Canada, Australia, Italy, Penang, New Zealand, Singapore, Poland and the United States. In 2005 a celebration of the start of Abreast In A Boat occurred in Vancouver, Canada – an international event with over 2000 breast cancer survivors from around the world. Following this festival Australia hosted ‘Abreast in Australia’ in 2007, and more recently Peterborough, Canada in 2010 (both of which had over 2000 participants). Each festival provided breast cancer survivors with the opportunity to network, attend workshops, paddle and celebrate life! The next international festival will be will be held in Sarasota in 2014.

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