Row, Row, Row Your Boat…

Author: Lucy Barlow Bedgood, Co-Founder.

This Post Was Originally Published on 10/8/13.

What does 18-22 paddlers, 1 who steers, and a drummer - all dressed in pink -  rowing in harmony in an elongated canoe adorned with a dragon head & tail all have in common?

A Dragon Boat Race, of course!

Cancer survivors around the world are gathering together in teams and rolling their hearts out for days of life celebration and to reflect their survivorship from cancer.

One would wonder: “What in the world does paddling a boat have to do with recovery from breast cancer?”  Over the past 15 years, Dragon Boat Racing has become a favorite sport, not only to promote a healthy life style for cancer survivors, but also to bring public awareness to the needs of those affected by cancer and the on-going demands for research for the cure.

Dragon boating, however, is not a recent sport. It began in China more than 2,000 years ago as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs. 

Dragon Boat Racing for cancer is credited to Canadian sports medicine specialist Dr. Donald C. McKenzie of the University of British Columbia.  As a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Director of the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, McKenzie believed that the actions required for rowing would benefit breast cancer survivors by providing “strenuous upper body activity in an aesthetically pleasing and socially supportive environment.” (Source)

Dr. McKenzie did not agree with many experts that upper body exercise could cause or aggravate lymphedema in persons who had lymph nodes removed. He believed that exercise would in fact be beneficial to recovery.

“Lymphedema is caused by a blockage in your lymphatic system, an important part of your immune and circulatory systems. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and as the fluid builds up, the swelling continues. Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.” (Source)

In fact, his patients that participated in upper body strengthening involved in the rowing exercises did not experience the same degree of lymphedema as those that did not. In a 1998 paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, McKenzie concludes:

“How important is the Abreast in a Boat

project? It is an approach to promoting health

and raising breast cancer awareness that is

driven by women with the disease. It reaches

out to other women and offers them a message

of hope and support. It is helping to change

attitudes toward “life after breast cancer,”

and it encourages women to lead full and active lives.

It is making a difference.”


So, grab your paddles everyone and let’s get going! Rowing appears to be a fantastic way to promote wellness after cancer treatment in terms of physical strength and emotional wholeness.

Row, row, row your boat…gently down the stream…merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…life is but a dream.



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