WILLIWAWS: Dragons and Elvis

Abreast of Life dragon boat team takes to the waves

The volunteers dispensing pink carnations from their buckets of fresh flowers always offer a Kleenex or two from the box they extend in their other hands.

It’s a thoughtful gesture, because many a tear is shed during the Carnation Ceremony soon to follow.

The 2013 Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival has rolled around again, and our local team of breast cancer survivors, “Abreast of Life”, is ready to prove again that life, love, and laughter can survive their shattering diagnosis.

Survivor teams from around the province and beyond have gathered for two days of strenuous paddling, competing against men’s, mixed, and women’s teams, all leading up to their own Breast Cancer Challenge.

It’s after these heats devoted exclusively to the survivors, that all their paddlers, other teams, and thousands of spectators assemble with their flowers.

To the beat of stirring music they wave their carnations and finally toss them to the water … in hope, support, and memory of comrades and loved ones. And that’s when the Kleenex are good to have at hand.

But … dragon boaters are also there to prove that life and its fun times do go on.

As I hurried to the race site on Sunday, I had to wade through a crowd of swaying, swooning people … mostly women, I must admit … and in their midst was Elvis! With one of Presley’s afterlife pseudonyms, imitator Steve Elliot had his audience entranced.

Singing, dancing, and even attempting to join him on the ground-level stage, he brought back the innocent years of his listeners.

One song he dedicated to the breast cancer teams. Singing Sweet Caroline, he asked us all, on those three heavy beats after the name, to raise an arm over our heads and punch, punch, punch away the scourge of the disease.

There was no lack of audience participation!

When heat and exhaustion brought the performance to an end, Elvis posed with team members on the hood of his 70’s pink Cadillac while he signed autographs. And then it was back to the dragon boats and “Paddles up!”

There’s nothing quite like the sound of each boat’s drum setting the pace for its paddlers.

Though out of sight at the starting line, the steady boom reaches us, stirring our hearts, as we wait for “our” team to appear, straining toward the buoys marking the finish line.

“Abreast of Life” achieved 2nd place twice that day, their best time over the 500-metre course, 2:39:63 minutes … this in a 40-plus foot boat with 20 paddlers, a tiller, and a drummer.

These races are so often won by mere seconds or even fractions thereof.

A race completed, each team comes up the ramp, “giving five” to their admirers and adding to an arch of paddles for each succeeding team.

Abreast of Life, besides practising and practising their paddling for strength and precision, have to pay their expenses.

To this end, this year they will hold their Second Annual Golf Tournament fundraiser at Arrowsmith Golf Course on Saturday, July 27th.

Already the golfers are signing up for this special day of fun, highlighted by décor that only a survivor team of paddlers could dream up!


Watch for details in The NEWS! Check the site:




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