THUNDER BAY -- The Dragons of Hope know a thing or two about perseverance.
The group of breast cancer survivors have become mainstays at the city’s annual Dragon Boat Festivals, with their recognizable pink team uniforms and strong, united spirits.
Liz Lindstrom is one of the veterans of the group, participating with the group for more than 10 years.
That role has become instrumental in guiding the new members of the team, allowing them to build up the belief they can participate in the rigorous physical activity.
“It’s amazing to see the change in them from them when they first get in the boat and as we go through the season the strength and confidence they gain. It’s nice knowing that you can do something you said you never could,” she said.
“These women are amazing women who give you strength and hope. If you can race here you can do anything.”
Michelle Blackburn is one of the newer members of the group and has been paddling on the boat for the past four years.
She first joined when she completed her breast cancer treatments as a way of trying to bounce back and get involved in a new hobby.
The support and camaraderie she found with her fellow survivors was more than she could have hoped for.
It continues to give her the motivation to persevere.
“It was a way for me to meet other survivors in the community to get out and do something that made me feel strong, not make me feel sick,” Blackburn said.
“These women have so much experience and have been through it. I’ve learned so much from and feel like I’m not alone. I see people out here paddling 19 years out of treatment and it gives me hope I can be here 15 years from now and still be paddling.”
The Dragons of Hope were one of 26 teams taking to the waters of Boulevard Lake on Saturday for the 16th edition of the festival.
As the novelty of the concept has started to fade, organizers have had to take different approaches to keep the event relevant.
That prompted a shift towards more of a family focused affair, with this year’s festival being hailed as the first Family of Dragons Festival.
Festival chair Volker Kromm said this year there were more activities geared towards children at the park to encourage parents and other family members who were paddling to bring their younger family members.
There has also been a shift in the type of teams entering, as Kromm said there are fewer competitive teams.
“We’re really trying to focus on companies, businesses and organizations to come down and enjoy the water,” Kromm said.
“We have only one competitive category and four non-competitive categories.”
Kromm estimates there were close to 500 paddles.
Proceeds from the event will be donated to local charities, split between the Canadian Mental Health Association, Catholic Family Development Centre, Canadian Diabetes Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
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