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Dragons churn waters of Nanaimo Harbour

Sixty-nine teams registered to participate in the annual Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival this weekend in the harbour. The event raises money for the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation to help with early diagnosis of breast cancer. - News Bulletin photo
Sixty-nine teams registered to participate in the annual Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival this weekend in the harbour. The event raises money for the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation to help with early diagnosis of breast cancer.
— image credit: News Bulletin photo

Dragons churn up the waters of Nanaimo Harbour this weekend (July 6-8) in an epic battle against breast cancer.

The annual Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival is expected to draw thousands of people to Maffeo Sutton Park to watch dragonboat crews race while taking in live music, testing international food flavours, enjoying family and kid-friendly entertainment and most importantly, celebrating and supporting those touched by breast cancer. In its ninth year, the event boasts a diverse collection of teams and paddlers from kids to seniors, breast cancer survivors to those battling the disease.

“Most of the people participating have been affected by breast cancer in some way,” said Paul Shorting, vice-president of the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival Society. “It’s a great way to connect with the community and offer support.”

Focused on raising money for the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation to help with the early diagnosis of breast cancer, the festival has raised more than $500,000 since its inception in 2003.

“The event shows Nanaimo in such a good light,” said Maeve O’Byrne, president of the foundation. “They are our major donor and have helped purchase diagnostic equipment for the imaging department.”

Sixty-nine teams are registered, 24 from off Island – 10 that have participated since the inaugural race – for a total of nearly 1,700 paddlers.

Holly Wylie, team member of Nanaimo’s Nusa’lon Dragons said when they race, they are paddling for the thousands of women and men who have survived breast cancer.

“It’s incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Wylie, who is currently training to make the Canadian national dragon boat team heading to Hungary in 2013, became involved in racing after losing her best friend and soulmate.

“I was very affected by my friend’s passing. When I heard about the dragon boat race supporting early detection of breast cancer I decided to try it. I was hooked from the beginning,” she said.

She said when your boat crosses the finish line and the helmsman cries, ‘let it run’ time slows, nothing else matters, and the present is all you see and feel.

Festivities begin Friday at 3 p.m. at Swy-a-lana Lagoon with the traditional awakening the dragon ceremony and Chinese lion dance.

At 9 p.m. paddlers and the public can participate in an emotional tribute to those who have died from the disease. Special candles are lit and then released into the lagoon where waves and wind gently rock and blow the luminaries across the water.

“It’s a beautiful sight and a chance for quiet reflection on how we honour those who have left,” said Wylie.

After a pancake breakfast on Saturday,  racing starts at 8 a.m., with four teams competing at 10-minute intervals. Live music regales the crowds throughout the day and international food vendors provide a variety of tasty dishes.

Dragonboat memorabilia and hand-crafted items are available for purchase, and face painting and kid’s events will keep the young ones occupied and entertained throughout both days.

Ninety per cent of the funds raised from race fees, beer garden, candle sales and donations will be donated to the hospital foundation with 10 per cent dedicated to Nanaimo Hospice Society.

“We can’t celebrate those who survived breast cancer without also supporting those who are passing,” said Heiko Behn, a director on the festival board.

Sunday features more events including a beer garden, carnation dedication, Pepsi Challenge, music, an Elvis impersonator and the closing ceremony.

For further information and event listing please, visit  www.nanaimodragonboat.com.

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