Among the crowd of hundreds set up alongside Lake Carolyn Sunday morning, preparing to compete in the 9th annual DFW Dragon Boat Festival, one team easily stood out among the crowd; their base camp covered in bright pink.
However it was their shared bond and story that really had others stopping by to meet them: a story of breast cancer survival.
The Dallas United Crew Pink Dragon Boat team was just formed in March and competed for the first time at the Irving event.
Dr. Katie Maciulewicz-Gass founded the team as a support system for breast cancer survivors after the health and exercise coach worked with similar teams elsewhere in the country.
The unique sport offers the survivors and current cancer patients a physical outlet to take back their strength as well as camaraderie with others who know their struggle.
“The support that they get from each other and the camaraderie like, if they need like guidance or support it’s there, but there’s also that silent comfort zone,” said Maciulewicz-Gass, “they’ve all been through it.”
So far, the DFW team is made up of about 22 members, the amount traditionally needed for a full competing boat, but Debby Kehoe, a team member and 18 year participant of the sport, hopes to draw in more survivors to the team.
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“It empowered me,” said Kehoe who first started dragon boating after her cancer fight 21 years ago. “At the end of the [first] race, we got off that boat, and I felt stronger than I’d ever felt in my life.”
Most of the women on the DFW team paddled their first competitive race on Sunday morning, but said they were hooked and looked forward to the next event.
“I took chemo this morning. Some oral chemo, my cancer is still under treatment,” said team member Sandra Chiles, “You feel powerful when you put that stroke in the water.”
Dragon boating is a Chinese sport with roots more than 2000 years old. Teams are made up of 22 members including 1 drummer keeping everyone in sync and 1 member at the back steering the boat.
The teams race one another in traditional boats that are often adorned as dragons.
The Dallas United Crew Pink team encourages anyone who’s battled or is currently battling breast cancer to get in touch with them and try the team out.