What began as an outreach program to celebrate breast cancer survivorship by the Dragon Dream Team, Ohio’s first all-breast cancer survivor dragon boat team, has become a Dragon Boat Festival enjoyed by the public and supported by the community and corporate sponsors.
The festival, Dragons On The Lake is now in its fifth year.
This year's race will be held on July 8 at the beach at Portage Lakes State Park. Opening ceremonies begin at 8:30 a.m., where a priestess will perform the opening of the dragon’s eyes in preparation of the race. Dragon boats go off at 9:00 a.m., and two teams of 20 paddlers race headto head for one to two minutes. With 37 breast cancer survivor and corporate teams registered, races will continue until 3:30 pm. At noon, a special ceremony will be held to celebrate and recognize breast cancer survivors.
Dragon boating is one of the fastest-growing team water sports in the world and the Dragon Dream Team is marking its tenth year in the sport. The Dragons On The Lake Festival began as a a way to celebrate life and the camaraderie of breast cancer survivors, said Susan Balmert, a 25-year breast cancer survivor and member of the Dragon Dream Team.
The Dragon Dream Team is a 501 (c)(3) organization. Proceeds from Dragons on the Lake support all the activities of the team including "Boatloads of Hope" breast cancer outreach. Last year, the event raised approximately $20,000, which is used for the outreach programs, Balmert said.
She explained that when a woman is diagnosed, the outreach nurses at 14 hospitals and breast cancer centers present the woman with a pashmina scarf, which Balmert described as "giving a hug" to the woman facing an uncertain time.
The Dragon Boat racing effort is another aspect of the outreach program.
"When a woman with breast cancer steps into the dragon boat, she may not know the woman next to her, but she shares something with her," Balmert said. "It is not just a boat race, it is healing and symbolic of moving forward," she added. "I started Dragon Boat racing when I was a 15-year survivor and I was not a water person, but something told me I had to do it," she said.
The number of teams has grown each year as members of the corporate rowing teams tell others how fun and rewarding it is. The corporate teams pay a participation fee and donate additionally, Balmert said.
For more information on the event and a list of all participating teams, go to www.dragonsonthelake.com. Admission is free and approximately 1,000 spectators are expected.