THUNDER BAY — If local dragon boaters appear to be gliding through the waters of Boulevard Lake just a little bit more quickly this summer, it’s not just your imagination.
Thunder Bay’s Dragons of Hope have given their team a boost with a new fibreglass dragon boat that’s set to arrive in the coming weeks, improving performance in the water and making for an easier lift outside of it.
The purchase comes after a successful fundraising campaign, and as the team looks to recruit new members, with an upcoming open house in April.
The new craft will have a particular impact for the team, which is made up of breast cancer survivors and supporters, and supports those with a breast cancer diagnosis through sport.
“This is especially important for our team, which is made up mostly of people in various stages of treatment and recovery,” said Janice Piper, a longtime paddler with Dragons of Hope. “It makes it easier to get the boat in and out of the water, easier to paddle, and will let us go on paddling for a good long time.”
The gently-used boat will be lighter, stronger, and easier to maintain than the wooden one they’ve been borrowing, Piper said.
It’s the first time the group has purchased its own boat, an affirmation of sorts that after around 20 years of paddling, the Dragons have become a local institution that’s here to stay.
The team has played an important role in helping many local women through difficult journeys.
“Really our purpose is to I think show people that have had a breast cancer diagnosis that there is a lot of possibility to live a full and active life during recovery, and even during treatment,” Piper said.
“I know for myself, being part of the team has led to feeling very supported, it’s led to lots of fun, improved fitness, great friendships, lots of laughs. That’s what we’re about.”
The team was inspired to launch the fundraiser after competing in fibreglass boats elsewhere.
“We’ve noticed a real difference,” said Piper. “We had the opportunity to paddle at a Paddlers Abreast festival in Vancouver this summer, and all of the boats were this lighter version. We felt like we were flying on the water. It was much easier.”
The team was thrilled to see that project supported by the wider community during last fall’s fundraiser, said Piper.
“We’re just so buoyed by all of this local support. We had so many generous businesses and individuals step up.”
Several local companies, like Perfect Fit Lingerie & Fashion, Ironworkers Local 759, and AMJ Campbell, stepped up with four-figure donations to help pay for the boat’s more than $10,000 cost.
The Dragons will be looking to get the new craft in the waters of Boulevard Lake as soon as the ice recedes, Piper said.
The team is still considering their summer season, which typically features travelling to at least one, and sometimes several, dragon boat festivals.
The Dragons of Hope will hold an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. on April 29 at the Urban Abbey, inviting breast cancer survivors to meet the team and learn about joining. All are welcome.
Residents can follow the group’s activities and learn more at its Facebook page.