Awaken the Dragon Within

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Who and Why We Are

Derby City Dragons bring a new sport, a new team, and new attitude toward breast cancer to Louisville. The team is made up of women who have or had breast cancer. Founded in 2013, we are an affiliate of Paddling for Cancer Awareness, Inc. (P4CA), a 501c.3 non-profit organization dedicated to developing and sustaining breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams.

We are part of an international dragon boat movement conceived of by a Canadian sports medicine specialist looking for a way to prevent lymphedema, a life-hampering and sometimes life-threatening disease that can result from the removal of lymph nodes, common during breast cancer treatment. The motions involved in raising a paddle and digging it into the water are one of the few effective preventatives.

Aside from reducing the lymphedema risk, Derby City Dragons raise the physical fitness level of every woman on the team. Recruits range widely in age and physical fitness level (many begin with very low activity levels) and become active, health-conscious athletes.

Our program recruits new members each year and turns them into athletes, while continuing to build the core strength of veteran paddlers. Many team members express surprise and delight at the team’s ability to paddle a 750-pound boat and to attempt chasing the Belle of Louisville down the Ohio River.

Paddling is what we do, but Derby City Dragons are about service, too. Our mission is as follows: to raise awareness in Louisville of breast cancer; to restore the physical, emotional and spiritual health of survivors; to alert other women that such restoration is possible; to transform health challenges through encouragement and support; to commemorate our sisters and brothers who have died of breast cancer; and to “awaken the dragon” in each of us, celebrating life, one stroke at a time.

Team members learn the importance of regular training, physical exercise, commitment to a sport, and reliance on themselves and the team. Our program is open to any breast cancer survivor, regardless of age, physical ability, or other factors because this sport does not demand brute strength. The key to our success is synchronization of action.

Breast cancer patients and survivors come in all ages, ethnicities, income levels, and genders, as do their family and friends. This team ranges in age from the late 30s to the late 60s and has provided opportunities for survivors and supporters to learn about breast cancer, form new friendships and support structures, and participate in an exciting and challenging sport. Few of the team members were athletes, or even exercised regularly; many had never been on the water; some had never participated in a team sport. Each member has stretched her perceived physical limits and moved beyond her comfort zones.