ELMO – The Silver Lining Dragon Boat Racing Team got together with paddlers from all over for the 3rd Annual Paddle Palooza. Before the trip began, the paddlers and canoes were blessed by a Hawaiian elder and UM’s Pacific Islanders Club to provide safety during the trip and emphasize the origins of outrigger canoes.
“It’s really important to carry on the traditions and keep these things going, and how exciting it is to have that here in Montana, across the ocean. It means a lot to us and it is important that these traditions continue. And even though we’re not on the islands, it’s a home for us,” said Ka’aumoana Ahina, executive director of the Pacific Islanders Community Association.
The idea of using the dragon boat as a means of healing came from Doctor Don McKenzie of Vancouver, Canada. The idea came about after one of his patients was told that she could not do any physical activity after recovering from breast cancer because it would lead to further health complications.
“It was ridiculous, frankly. And so we decided to choose a sport that would challenge that myth and therefore find a sport that would be high-intensity repetitive upper body exercise,” said Don McKenzie, MD and teacher in Vancouver, Canada.
After discovering that paddling would help breast cancer survivors and not cause additional problems, McKenzie let the first group of women that paddling helped run with the idea and make it their own. After 26 years, this form of exercise and therapy is used on 6 continents.
“Dragon Boating has become the leading sport for breast cancer survivors. So now, people all over the world are getting into the sport of dragon boating because of their diagnosis of breast cancer. So you get the benefits of exercise and mental health as well as the support system of your team around you,” said Dragon Boat Coach Megan Kress.
The Silver Lining Dragon Boat Team is the premier team of breast cancer survivors in Montana. They brought this form of healing and exercise to life in the state through competition and the common goal of thriving. This year’s trip consisted of two waves of paddlers who completed either a 22-mile paddle or a 30-mile paddle on Flathead Lake. Although paddling is great exercise, most of the benefits of the sport come from the environment and people.
“What you’ve learned over time as a doctor is that there’s an awful lot of healing that can happen, you know, in a dragon boat or on a stabilizer that has nothing to do with medicine, when you’ve had a disease like breast cancer, the camaraderie that unity and it’s being on the water. There’s something very therapeutic about that activity,” McKenzie said.
After a long 7 hour trip, the paddlers came back in good spirits.
“Our big push is exercise is medicine and our ladies are trained. We’ve trained for life. We know regular exercise can reduce your risk of recurrence. But that obviously transfers to activities like this- here and we are ready for the challenge and we feel good. I think we could start again tomorrow if necessary,” said Nan Condit, President of the Silver Lining Foundation.
Condit is grateful to all the people who have come together from afar to join this adventure.
“We are just creating a family, a canoe is symbolic of life. It is very sacred to the tribal people. It is very sacred to us. And so just bringing it all together is really special,” Condit said.
The trip was inspiring and everyone who participated enjoyed the experience to the fullest.
“Yeah, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, you really savor every day. It really is a gift,” Condit said.