On the front page...
Imagine a warm day on the banks of the Anacostia
River. Several brightly colored boats race past, each 20-woman
crew dipping the oars in perfect synchronization. It may not be
until after the race, when these women laugh and shout and congratulate
each other, that you notice the many pink ribbons decorating team
shirts and some of the boats.
This is the annual Washington, D.C., Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon
Boat Festival, and it hasn't actually happened yet. But if NIH employees
Dr. David Winter and Jane Daye have their way, it will.
|Parents and kids enjoy a "Family
Learn to Paddle Day" on the Anacostia River.
Daye is a senior policy analyst and special assistant to the director
at the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. Winter is
a program officer in NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and
Transplantation. Both are members of the National Capital Area
Women's Paddling Association (NCAWPA), a coed paddling organization
that hopes to establish a breast cancer survivor (BCS) dragon boat
team and, eventually, bring a BCS Dragon Boat Festival to the D.C.
NCAWPA's boathouse is in Anacostia, "right in the community we
want most to reach," says Winter. "The boathouse is completely
volunteer-run; there are no salaries for any of the coaches or
steering staff. We are supported physically by the Anacostia Community
Boathouse Association (www.anacostiaboathouse.org).
On the CFC entry for the Anacostia Boathouse, you'll see that there's
no overhead cost." NCAWPA also is part of the Anacostia Watershed
Society (www.anacostiaws.org). "You
can see their great work in the reclamation projects and plantings
along the river, where you can see ospreys, bald eagles," among
other wildlife, he adds.
|Dragon boats at the Anacostia Community
Boathouse are used for races, practices, team-building workshops
as well as community "Learn to Paddle Days."
How It Started
The first Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat team started in February
1996 in British Columbia. Dr. Donald McKenzie, a sports medicine
physician and exercise physiologist, was dissatisfied with the
common belief that women who had undergone breast cancer treatments
shouldn't do upper body exercise because it would cause lymphedema
and tissue damage. He felt this was counterintuitive, and through
the Public Health Agency of Canada — the Canadian equivalent
of NIH — he got a grant to conduct a study.
|At the end of a race, competing
breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams salute each other.
McKenzie wanted to explore repetitive motion exercises, and felt
that dragon-boating would work well because a team consists of
20 women, doing exactly the same stroke exactly the same number
of times. Within a short time he was able to demonstrate that not
only did this form of exercise not cause lymphedema in BCSs, but
it could actually decrease the amount of lymphedema or even prevent
it, reduce scarring and rebuild muscle mass. Overall, he found
that it produced a physically measurable positive effect.
A less easily measured but significant effect he noticed was the
impact that dragon-boating had on the women, their families and
communities, says Winter. Paddling proved not only very healthy
for the women physically, but also it provided a profoundly positive
mental and emotional shift in their outlook. "During most breast
cancer treatment, you are passive," he notes. "The most active
you are is swallowing a pill. You're not doing anything and you're
not in control. Here was something you can do that would improve
your health, and you are in control. It makes such a difference
when you're able to say, 'Here's something I can control.'"
Daye adds, "The thing I notice about paddling is the concentration,
the focus on movement and the water, takes you out of the moment
of being sick. In this moment, you are an athlete."
Of course dragon-boating isn't just for breast cancer survivors.
The health benefits are many: it involves no impact; uses core
muscles; builds strong back muscles and strengthens obliques, abdominals
Adds Winter, "It's a bit like Tai Chi, massaging your internal
organs, increasing circulation and cleansing the tissues much faster."
|The face of victory: A breast
cancer survivor completes a championship race.
The formation of the BCS team will be done in conjunction with
the NIH Paddling Club through the R&W and NCAWPA, both nonprofits.
The BCS team will, in the initial stages at least, come under the
auspices of NCAWPA. "We want to establish this club and do the
groundwork for the team. But, as a part of the empowerment of the
women, it should become its own self-sufficient organization," Winter
says. Winter is head racing coach, and says that as of next spring
the organization will have a staff of professionally trained coaches
and a personal fitness trainer who will develop off-water and preseason
workout plans for team members.
Daye works on outreach and organizes the paddling workshops for
BCSs. The most recent such event was held last September. "About
half of the participants who try paddling come out a second time
and get very excited by it," says Winter.
The long-term goals include involving NIH staff, particularly
therapists who can help develop a fitness program for the BCS team;
and increasing outreach to black and Hispanic women, two of the
most underserved populations. "The beauty of this program is that
it really can reach out and touch people, even outside the 20 in
the boat," says Winter. Daye added, "This program offers all of
us the opportunity to do something together. To be, in a sense,
in the same boat."
For details about dragon-boating, the BCS team, NCAWPA or the
NIH Paddlers, contact Daye (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Winter (email@example.com).
The CFC ends on Jan. 31.