When Becky Adams puts on a new Regatta Sport uniform Aug. 19, the successful Cambria Realtor won’t be getting ready to show another home for sale. Instead, she’ll be preparing to compete as part of the U.S. team in an international sports event in Welland, Canada.
She and her 19 teammates (eight women, 12 men from all over the U.S., all of whom tried out as individuals) will grab their paddles and climb into a long water-sport vessel that looks like it should be heading for a watery Chinese New Year Parade.
Then they’ll compete for their country in the 12th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships.
The International Dragon Boat Federation holds the competitions every other year. Each country that’s a federation member can enter one crew in each class.
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Crew members synchronize their strokes with speed, strength, coordination, grace and heart in a paddle-powered ballet on water. A 500- meter heat or race usually lasts about 2 minutes, a 2,000-meter race, 9 or 10 minutes.
The competition will be fierce, as it is in every race, even local ones, Adams said. Literal upsets of the somewhat teetery crafts are not unusual.
For instance, in a June 4 race in Canada with the U.S. team, the steersperson in an adjacent dragon boat lost control of the craft.
“I looked up and saw the dragon heading straight for my head!” Adams said. “I immediately ducked down,” and the figurehead went right over her. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, neither vessel was damaged and both boats were allowed to restart the heat.
By the way, Adams’ team won the heat.
What is a dragon boat?
The team-paddling water sport of dragon boat racing is rooted in more than 20 centuries of ancient, annual folk and religious ceremonies and rituals involving contending villagers in southern China.
Modern dragon boat racing emerged as an international sport in Hong Kong in 1976. The human-power dragon boats range from 38 to 48 feet long, and the teams include 20 to 26 paddlers.
A dragon boat is one of a family of traditional paddled long boats found throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific islands. Dragon boats were traditionally made of teak wood in China’s southern Guangdong Province, although in other parts of the country, different kinds of wood are used.
To increase speed, today’s competitive boats are made of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials.
So, what’s the link between dragon-boat paddling and cancer research?
Adams said in a series of interviews that “dragon boat paddling is a ‘calm-water sport’ in which people of all ages and fitness levels can participate.
“Our local team is comprised of cancer survivors and their supporters … All are welcome,” she said, “and all the equipment is available at the dock” in Morro Bay.
According to the Central Coast SurviveOars website at www.surviveoars.org/ Welcome.html, the “goal is to include all people who have been affected by cancer — survivors and supporters. Our purpose is to provide group exercise and support programs to enhance the health and well-being of any person affected by cancer.”
Some team members want the recreational experience and others, like Adams, recreate and compete.
“Although I am competitive,” she said, “I never played team sports because I didn’t ever want to let my team down. The generous spirit and welcoming nature of all the members of this team changed my mind about all that and helped me grow as a human being.”
Adams and husband Burt Adams got involved when “our good friends Bill and Sandy Raver, formerly of Cambria, urged us to try paddling for the fitness of it, the social aspect and the beauty and wildlife of Morro Harbor.”
The Adamses started paddling in January 2014 “and we fell in love with it!”
The team’s support for cancer patients and cancer research is close to Becky Adams’ heart, too.
“Since my aunt died of breast cancer after suffering terribly from lymphedema for 10 years, and other close female relatives are breast-cancer survivors, this aspect of our local team made it very special to me, too.”
But paddling has specific health benefits that hit close to home, too, she said.
“I started weight training 10 years ago because of studies that found the recurrence of breast cancer is much lessened in women who do regular weight training. I decided to do it as a preventive measure, three sessions a week,” in addition to the yoga she does regularly.
According to a report written by Janet Weiner (associate director for health policy at Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics within the University of Pennsylvania), those cancer studies, initially considered to be radical, said that the traditional post-surgical breast cancer treatment of restricted arm movement, sometimes for life, was not only unnecessary but detrimental.
Weiner wrote that Canadian sports-medicine physician Don McKenzie not only advocated increased exercise to improve quality of life, he was convinced the workouts could extend patients’ life expectancy. He, a colleague and 23 breast cancer survivors formed a dragon boat team (the “Abreast in a Boat” team) in February 1996.
The strenuous, repetitive upper-body activity began to change how breast cancer survivors live.
Meanwhile, Adams’ weight-training regime was “what led me to think I could qualify individually for the U.S. World Team in my age division,” which is senior, 60 years and older.
She recalled that “I was able to get top scores on the rowing machine, single-person outrigger canoe time trials, running, sit-ups and medicine-ball bounces. My strength and timing helped me at the two tryout camps in Melbourne, Fla., but my lack of experience as a paddler was my weak point. I started trying out Jan. 30, and made the team May 1.”
Everybody else on the U.S. team had been paddling for from four to 12 years, far longer than Adams has. She added that, since qualifying for the team, “I’ve been working on my paddling stroke ever since!”
She said her “clients, family and teammates (especially Rick and Sue Warren) have all be so supportive of my endeavor; they have been rooting for me since the beginning.”
The team’s June experience in Canada is “where we ‘jelled’ as a team and did well,” Adams said, “only losing by one second to a team comprised of 20-year-olds.”
She said dragon-boat paddling “is one sport where mental tenacity can win out over youth and brawn, because timing is one of the most important aspects of the sport.”
For proof, Adams recalled with a laugh that members of the Golden Dragons team from Portland, Ore., wear shirts emblazoned with a paraphrase of a quote from American dramatist David Mamet: “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and ambition!”
The county’s local dragon-boat paddling team, Central Coast SurviveOars in Morro Bay, is looking for more paddlers.
There are five practice opportunities per week: Mondays from 10 to 11 a.m. (Zen paddling); Tuesdays (race paddling) and Thursdays (training paddling) 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.; and Saturdays (race and recreational paddling) 8:30 to 10 a.m. Some Wednesday sessions also are held. For details, go to www.surviveoars.org/Welcome.html.
Club meetings are held at 5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of odd-numbered months at the Hearst Cancer Resource Center, French Hospital, 1941 Johnson Avenue, Suite 201A, San Luis Obispo. Everybody is welcome.
All paddlers must have completed and submitted to Team Survivor SLO a medical release, membership and release-of-liability forms.
As stated on the website, on the dragon boats, paddlers, “Get stronger, learn from each other, gain self-confidence, overcome fear, support each other, bring cancer awareness to our community and laugh” a lot.