Behind the Dragon Boat Building Project

On Sunday 9th April 2006, a magnificent dragon boat named Brave Hearts, blessed in traditional Chinese Style, was launched into the waters of Gateway Lakes, Albury Wodonga for the first time to the cheers and tears of a crowd over 600 strong. What is even more special was this boat was built by a group of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancerand volunteers from the community alongside three experts from the Riverina Institute of TAFE, Albury Campus and they became the first group of women to build their own dragon boat. This inspirational project not only captured the hearts of our region but also won National and International acclaim and also saw the start of the successful much loved Brave Hearts Dragon Boat Club.

The boat building project took 9 months to complete and commenced a week following all participants having completed their Occupational Health and Safety Green Card requirements and 4 weeks of introduction to the use of the power tools needed for its construction.

What is a Dragon Boat?

A dragon boat is a 12 metre long canoe-like boat, wide enough to sit 20 people (2 abreast) along with a sweep to steer the boat and a drummer, and it is paddled over a course of approximately 500 metres in length. During races a dragon boat will feature the head and tail of a dragon, a mythological creature regarded by the Chinese as having dominion over the waters and exercising control over rainfall.

 Initially this project was to benefit survivors of breast cancer in particular and aimed to emulate the success of the first breast cancer survivor Dragon Boat team that took to the water in Darwin in 1998 after being inspired by a Canadian team who spoke at a National Breast Cancer Conference in Canberra. Brave hearts Dragon Boat club is open to survivors of all cancers and their supporters and is part of a growing national movement with paddlers in every state.

By being part of a team, although physically demanding, the participants can help each other regain a sense of wellness, self confidence and control in their lives and at the same time have loads of fun and enjoy the fellowship and support of other paddlers. It is definitely a team sport that builds harmony and a feeling of togetherness, improvements in fitness, is aesthetically pleasing being on the water and above all is reported as an exhilarating experience that every paddler has enjoyed. Competition outcome does not matter however, just by participating as part of a team is the winning medal.

Building our Dragon Boat

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Community Support

Brave Hearts Dragon Dragon Boat Club once again came about due to the support of the community and the enthusiasm of its wonderful participants who continually strive to prove to others that you can lead a full active life despite the physical and emotional limitations that a cancer diagnosis imposes.

The funds raised by the Brave Hearts Calendar certainly offered financial backing but this was added to by the generosity offered by the Riverina Institute of TAFE – Albury Campus; Grants Home Hardware who donated the building requirements; Flex Out Physiotherapy and Kerry Walker Physiotherapy who offered essential muscle strengthening and training preparations for building and paddling; Vision Screenprinting for their assistance with T-shirts; Aljoy Photography….. and the list goes on.

The time and effort of so many people and volunteers was also overwhelming including one hard working individual – Frank Lange – who has worked in all spheres to ensure this boat building exercise was a success. He worked closely with the Wooden Boat Building Centre in Melbourne and together with the TAFE’s instructors – Glen Costin and Norm Peters – were able to produce workable plans for the very much novices to follow and construct the boat.

Clearly articulated by the participants themselves, the project changed the lives of all involved. One quoted statement epitomises this .. “it was an awesome ride -the view from the top was incredible and the ride down again was pure elation. My life has been divided into pre cancer and post cancer. Post cancer is now simply the best. You gave us back our future – thanks a million”.

Another poignant group of words which was written by Jodie Hart and we still use constantly is “Sink or Swim”:

Sink or Swim

I belong to a group called Young Hearts for people on the Albury/Wodonga border with cancer, predominantly breast cancer. I am also a Registered Nurse. I have heard a lot of stories from cancer survivors and those who have not been so fortunate to be considered a survivor. A couple of things strike me about these stories. Firstly, not one is the same. So different from the emotions felt, the treatment given and the circumstances the person is in. And though my own story is also different to everyone else, I still always get an overwhelming feeling of grief and sorrow when a person openly retells what happened to them.

The second thing that strikes me is that at some point after being diagnosed with cancer we all make a decision; am I going to sink or swim? A lot of us want the doctors to answer this for us, but ultimately we have to make the decision and somehow become comfortable with it. The treatments are often harsh. If we decide to swim it’s not going to be in some nice clean swimming pool! The waters can be rough and dirty and dangerous…..Unfortunately the only way is through, but at the other end is hope and often cure.

For me the decision to swim was made even before I realised there was a decision to be made. Lucky for me I am a strong swimmer! I know others who have struggled and changed their mind at times. And some people simply can’t swim. For those people we now offer a boat. Not just any boat, but the meanest, fiercest Dragon Boat you will ever see! You no longer have to visualise yourself swimming through huge waves with no idea how to swim in the first place! Just let us know if you feel you’re drowning and we’ll swing on by in our twelve metre boat and lift you gently in. We’ll keep you afloat. And when you’re feeling stronger we’ll have a paddle waiting for you and we’ll teach you to paddle. Together we can propel that dragon through…..

I believe strongly in the power of a cheer squad. The bigger the better! Even from a hospital bed we can gain much strength from knowing there are people out there who are willing us to get better and feel peace. The Great Dragon Boat Challenge will hopefully become part of everyone’s cheer squad on The Border. The people involved previously had the cancer-experience in common. The Brave Heart’s Calendar was the next project for the group and so we now have the experience of public nudity in common. The next project is that of building a Dragon Boat. Later we’ll learn how to row and hopefully race the thing….

Cancer is merely one of life’s challenges. The Albury Wodonga community keeps offering us, the Border Cancer Support Groups, other new and exciting challenges. It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that we accept them.”

Jodie Hart – June 2005

Join Us

We now train twice a week on the flat water training facility at Gateway Lakes along with the Mitta Mitta Canoe Club, the Rowing Club of Albury Wodonga and the Skiing Club who are working alongside us to ensure safe boating. We have already competed in numerous carnivals and championships and held our first regatta here on the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd, 2009.

Since then our annual regattas have grown to two consecutive days – a community day which gives members of our local community a chance to enter a team and participate in a fun filled day and a sporting day the following day to include sporting teams mainly from Victoria and NSW.

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We are looking for people interested in joining us – you don’t have to have had cancer to join us. We are also always looking for accredited sweeps or coaches to assist us.