ELMO — The Silver Lining Dragon Boat Racing Team came together with paddlers from all over for the 3rd annual Paddle Palooza. Before the voyage began, the paddlers and canoes were blessed by a Hawaiian elder and the Pacific Islanders Club from UM to ensure safety on the trip and bring focus to the origins of the outrigger canoes.
“It's really important to carry on traditions and to sustain those things, and how exciting it is to have that here in Montana, all the way across the ocean. It means a lot to us and it's important that these traditions carry on. And even though that we are not on the islands, it's a piece of home for us,” said Ka’aumoana Ahina, Pacific Isladers Community Association Executive Director.
The idea to use Dragon Boating as a way of healing came from Doctor Don McKenzie from Vancouver, Canada. The idea sparked after one of his patients was told that they couldn’t do physical activity after recovering from breast cancer because it would cause other health complications.
“It was ridiculous, quite frankly. And so we decided to pick a sport that would challenge that myth and so to find a sport that would be repetitive high intensity upper body exercise," said Don McKenzie, a doctor and professor in Vancouver, Canada.
After finding out that paddling would help breast cancer survivors and not cause additional problems, McKenzie let the first group of women that paddling had helped run with the idea and make it their own. After 26 years, this form of exercise and therapy is being used on 6 continents.
“Dragon Boating has become the flagship sport of breast cancer survivors. So now all over the world, people are getting into the sport of Dragon Boating because of their breast cancer diagnosis. So you get the benefits of exercise and mental health as well as the support system of your team around you," said Megan Kress, Dragon Boat coach.
The Silver Lining Dragon Boat Team is the first breast cancer survivor team in Montana. They have brought this form of healing and exercise to life in the state through competition and the common goal to thrive. This year's voyage consisted of two waves of paddlers who completed either a 22-mile paddle or a 30-mile paddle on Flathead Lake. Although paddling is great exercise, most of the benefits of the sport come from the environment and the people.
“What what you've learned over time as a physician, is that there's an awful lot of healing that can occur, you know, Dragon Boating or on an outrigger that's got nothing to do with medicine, when you've had a disease like breast cancer, the camaraderie that togetherness and that's being on the water. There's something very therapeutic about this activity,” said McKenzie.
After a long 7-hour voyage, the paddlers returned in high spirits.
“Our big push is Exercise is Medicine and our ladies trained. We trained for life. We know that regular exercise can reduce your risk of recurrence. But that obviously transfers over to activities like this and we're up for the challenge and we feel great. I think we could do it again tomorrow if we had to,” said Nan Condit, Silver Lining Foundation President.
Condit is grateful for all the people that came together from far and wide to join in on this adventure.
“We're just creating a family, a canoe is symbolic of life. It's very sacred for tribal people. It's very sacred for us. And so just bringing that all together is really special,” said Condit.
The voyage was inspiring, and everyone who participated enjoyed the experience to the fullest.
“Yeah, when you've had a cancer diagnosis, you really relish every day. It's really a gift,” said Condit.