Revelstoke paddler and co-founder of the Lake Revelstoke Dragon Boat Society Ginger Shoji returned from Florence, Italy last month after competing in the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission Participatory Dragon Boat Festival.
Travelling to Florence as a member of the Kamloops Spirit Warriors, Shoji was one of over 4,000 breast cancer survivors to take part in this year’s festival from July 6-8.
According to Shoji, taking part in the event creates a sense of community amongst participants from around the globe.
“It’s almost like you know everyone and everyone knows you – that’s how emotional it gets,” Shoji explains of the experience. “You can’t even speak the same language, but you’re giving each other hugs and you’re happy to meet each other and exchanging pins from your teams. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Over the course of the weekend, 121 teams from 18 countries raced on the Arno River through Florence, competing in five lane races with counterparts from various countries the world over.
2018 marked the first year the event included teams from every continent.
Shoji made the trip with over 20 other B.C. breast cancer survivors, including former Revelstoke resident and co-founder of the Revelstoke Dragon Boat Society Joan Eley, as well as supporters of the team.
On the second day of the festival, Shoji was able to race alongside her sister in a supporters race, in which the team finished third.
“They couldn’t believe how hard we work,” laughs Shoji, referring to the reaction among team supporters who took part in the race.
Overall, the Spirit Warriors finished in the middle of the pack, racing in four races over two competition days and the additional supporters race.
Over the course of the two days, the team finished fourth in three races and third in the other.
Dragon boat racing was first used as a medically suggested exercise for breast cancer survivors in 1996 when Dr. Don McKenzie of Vancouver theorized that the upper body exercise would be beneficial and would prevent lymphedema.
Shoji, who has been involved in dragon boat racing for 15 years, says the sport has created an outlet for both physical activity and deeper fulfillment among the survivors.
“Not only is it good exercise, but you also meet people that are in the same boat as you. They’re going through exactly the same thing,” says Shoji. “Mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally, we’re all there for each other.”
On a personal level, Shoji says dragon boating has created a chance to block out the rest of the world and focus only on keeping time.
“It’s magic on the water. You feel so free and alive.” says Shoji. “It’s magical for me, that’s the only thing I can say.”