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Festival raises cancer awareness

Dragon Boat teams race the Portage Lakes in fundraiser

By MALCOLM HALL GateHouse Ohio Media Published: July 10, 2017 4:00 AM
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Dawn Wagner joined hundreds of others Saturday in Portage Lakes State Park to let the paddles hit the water for the purpose of raising awareness and funds to help those coping with breast cancer.

The star attractions for the event, known as the annual Dragon Boat Festival, are colorfully painted dragon boats that participants, or members of competing teams, power in Turkeyfoot Lake in New Franklin.

Wagner, an employee of Alliance Community Hospital, is a member of the Dragon Dream Team, the group that organizes the event.

"We have got about 70 members," Wagner said. "They are all breast cancer survivors. They all live in Northeast Ohio. We are Ohio's first and only all-breast cancer survivor team. We actually travel and race our dragon boats. We race in other cities and in other states against other breast cancer teams."

Dragon boat teams pay $1,000 to enter the race. Last year, more than 700 paddlers comprising 29 dragon boat teams attended the festival in southern Summit County.

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Wagner, who is a registered dietitian nutritionist/licensed dietitian, was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago.

A dragon boat resembles a long canoe. Normally 20 people use paddles to power the vessel. The dragon boat has a decorative carving of a dragon head at one end and a dragon tail at the other. A drummer rides on the boat to assist paddlers with maintaining their timing. It is important for members of the paddle team to work in sync.

Dragon boat racing is a tradition traced back more than 2,000 years to eastern Asia.

Wagner helped organize a corporate dragon boat racing team at Alliance Community Hospital. That team is known as Alliance Community Hospital Life Preservers. Though she works at the hospital, Wagner's own team is not affiliated with Alliance Community Hospital.

"It is only about three minutes where you are out there in the race," said Loretta Sparks, who is with the Alliance Community Hospital dragon racing team. "But it feels like an eternity. You are paddling with all your heart. You have to row with the beat of the drum. That keeps all your paddlers in sync. There are teams from all over Ohio that will race this weekend."

Money raised from the Dragon Boat Festival goes to support the Dragon Dream Team's outreach program called Boatloads of Hope. Through this outreach, the Dragon Dream Team provides support for breast cancer survivors and their families during the treatment phase. Boatloads of Hope works through area hospitals.

Not only does participating in the dragon boat event uplift the spirits, but Wagner believes there are health benefits as well. Some breast cancer patients wind up with a condition known as edema, an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or in body cavities.

"I didn't have edema, but some of the ladies do," Wagner said. "Exercise increases circulation which increases absorption of the fluids."


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