‘On dragon boats we celebrate life’: Cancer survivors find strength, comfort through ancient Chinese sport

Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 9:09 AM EDT
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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Nonprofit organization, Dragon Boat at the Beach, is made up of cancer survivors who practice ancient dragon boat racing to stay fit and stick together.

Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese sport that takes 20 paddlers in a 4x40ft boat with a coach and steersperson.

The nonprofit group formed in 2007 welcomes cancer survivors of all ages and stages of recovery.

June Shea, current president of Dragon Boat at the Beach, said she found the group after she came down with cancer, and this group has kept her going through hard times.

“I first came down with cancer in 2010. I’ve had cancer four times since then. I joined dragon boats in 2011, and the people on this boat have gotten me through, and been behind me, and encouraged me and gave me strength and hope,” said Shea.

The group goes out on dragon boats three times a week for 10 months a year.

There are three different types of paddles you can participate in.

There is an endurance paddle to practice stamina, a leisure paddle to take in the scenery of the Marina and a race prep paddle.

The race prep paddle crew race in competitions along the east coast and recently beat out 30 other teams to win gold in their last competition.

Not only could their win be a result of their hard work, but Annely Thorstad, the new head coach, joined the team this season.

Although Thorstad might be the coach, she says the group is teaching her.

“I’ve definitely learned compassion. There is a number of ladies that needed support from the others, and I can tell you that they are, they just go over and above for each other,” said Thorstad.

The group takes every chance they get to pile back into the dragon boats after their paddles didn’t hit the water for two years due to covid.

Covid also stopped the group from fundraising.

Shea said they are looking forward to starting fundraising again next year.

Shea also said that being out on the water with the group has changed her life.

“When you’re going through treatment you kind of lose control of your life. You’re told what to do. When to go for test. When to go for a treatment. But when you get back on the paddle. And back with that paddle in your hand on the dragon boat. And when you can actually pull that water. You kind of regain control of your life,” said Shea.

The team hits the water again for their next competition at Carolina Beach in September.

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