Irish News – April 2017

An impressive weekly spectacle on the Lagan in Belfast involves health as well as fun.

Those rowing in will tell you they’re ‘all in the same boat’ during their hour-long expedition along the river every Saturday – but that often throwaway phrase has a deeper meaning for this intrepid group of mostly women because each has had a breast cancer diagnosis.

Lagan Dragons set sail nearly two years ago to help women and men affected by breast cancer. The group’s aim is to improve fitness, have fun, provide support and raise awareness.

The team has 30 members with an age range from early 30s to mid 60s. All have another thing in common – they are all new to the sport of dragon boat racing – and despite looking almost Viking in their warlike craft, many have never been in a boat before.

The dragon racers meet during their March to November season to enjoy an hour paddling on the Lagan, building up their strength and having fun. They gather each week at River’s Edge at Bryson Lagansports, on the Ravenhill Road from 8.45am to 10am.

The team also takes part in charity regattas and breast cancer races on the international stage.

Breast cancer dragon boat racing is an international movement inspired by the research of Canadian sports medicine specialist Don McKenzie. The movement has found that through paddling, women’s fitness, general wellbeing and mental health all improve.

There are now seven groups in Ireland – Lagan Dragons is the first in the north. The team is raising money for equipment and to be able to offer three free sessions.

Captain Joanne Rock said there was new life beyond breast cancer diagnosis.

“We are literally all in the same boat. When we paddle there is one boat, one beat; we have to learn to work together – that’s when we’re strongest. Having cancer and going through treatment is so tough but together we’re learning to live a new life beyond a cancer diagnosis.”