Group plans overseas journey to attend New Zealand event
Dragon boats on the water in 2018 Florence, Italy

2018 Florence, Italy International Dragon Boat Festival for Breast Cancer Survivors

Members of Dragon Boat Atlanta are looking ahead to 2023. That’s when the IBCPC International Dragon Boat Festival for Breast Cancer Survivors takes place in Lake Kriapiro, New Zealand and they’re taking a team to the International Dragon Boat Festival for Breast Cancer Survivors. The non-competitive participatory event is for breast cancer padding teams who engage in dragon boat activities as part of their post-breast cancer diagnosis rehabilitation.

“This may seem like a long way off, but we are committed to go,” said Connie White, a 6-year breast cancer survivor and team president of the organization. “We’re already looking to grow our team and raise awareness for the sport, starting now. By the time New Zealand comes around, we will have a strong team and enthusiastic supporters here in Atlanta and northeast Georgia.”

As the state’s only dragon boat team comprising breast cancer survivors and supporters, it is inviting women to their practices in Gainesville on Lake Lanier who want to learn and try their hand at paddling a dragon boat. Teams consist of 10 or 20 paddlers, plus a drummer and a steersperson. The drummer counts a rhythm to set the pace; the steersperson controls the path of the 40-foot boat.

As a member of the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission, the team has traveled to Italy and is planning a trip to New Zealand in 2023.

The team also regularly participates in dragon boat festivals around the Southeast. However, the pandemic set the team back as far as practices and attracting new members and supporters.

“We’re inviting people to come out to our weekly Saturday morning practices at Lake Lanier Olympic Park and learn more about us,” White said. “Dragon Boat Atlanta is growing and we would love to have new folks come out to practice with us.

“All Breast Cancer supporters and survivors are welcome. We need many volunteers for tasks other than paddling, so don’t be shy if you want to support us but don’t feel up to paddling. You can help in other ways. If you do want to paddle, you would practice with the team twice before joining as part of our team.”

The ancient sport of dragon boating originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. It’s popular around the world with highly competitive world-class teams and recreational teams. The first breast cancer team was formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1996, when an exercise physiologist realized that upper-body exercise would benefit women treated for breast cancer. Soon teams came together across Canada and the U.S. Now there are more than 260 teams in 32 countries across six continents. In all there are more than 10,000 individual dragon boat breast cancer paddlers around the world.

Dragon boat paddling helps raise awareness for breast cancer and the battles that each patient faces. It is also a way for survivors to grow their bond.

“We are an unmistakable, visible sign of survival, strength and beauty on the water, paddling in perfect unison,” White said. “Our message may go out to that person in the crowd watching a festival who just got diagnosed or is undergoing treatment and perhaps something just clicks. We had it, too. We experienced the fear of discovery and the weariness of treatment, but we made it.”

But the message is even more direct and poignant.

“For that person watching the races who knows someone who has it or who may one day get the diagnosis themselves, it’s our hope that they remember watching us and the fierceness with which we paddled. They may understand that our drummer dressed as a warrior in pink was meant to demonstrate just that – for anyone who has had cancer, waged a war whether they won or not. For those of us who have survived, we pay it forward through paddling.”

To learn more about Dragon Boat Atlanta, go to: or email The phone number is 706 870-3689.

Photo: courtesy of International Paddling Commission for Breast Cancer Survivors Facebook Page