The Kootenay Robusters Dragon Boat team have had a challenging summer of paddling.  Despite efforts to recruit new team members, the practices never had the full complement of 20 paddlers and sometimes as few as ten women headed out on the water to train.  However no one let that get in the way of planning to attend the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival on Sept.10 and 11 to celebrate the end of the paddling season. As captain Bernice Barrass put it, “Because we haven’t had a full boat all season, we’re stronger than ever. Now we just have to find some another group of paddlers that would like to get together with us for the festival.”

A team from Edmonton, (the Parkland Dragon Boat Racing Club) who had experienced the same membership issues this season were happy to get together with the Robusters. Paperwork was completed and a combined team, christened the Parkbusters got ready to meet at the festival.   However, in the days just before everyone was set to go, illness and injury took three more Robusters off the roster and required the emergency recruitment of another paddler from Calgary, one from Penticton and a rodeo cowboy from Alberta named Conrad to steer the boat.

Dragon boating is a sport requiring precise synchronization and perfect timing to be successful, so everyone wondered how the mix of 22 people who had never been in a boat together was going to work.  With one quick practice under their belts and a bit of trepidation they got ready to compete. As coach Joy Anderson put it, “We may not be the fastest team out there but we’re going to do our very best. We’ll definitely be first in our lane and we’re going to have FUN.”

As expected, the Parkbusters didn’t win any races but were more than satisfied with meeting their goals of paddling well together, improving steadily,  having fun and making some new friends.  When the final race ended the team was awarded 3rd place in the Silver B division and took home some really cool ribbons.

On Sunday, six Robuster breast cancer survivors joined another team called Spirit Abreast to compete in the Breast Cancer races.  With the rest of the team members on shore screaming encouragement and waving pink shakers, Spirit Abreast took first place in the B Division.  “That was the most exciting race of the whole festival,” spectators commented, as Spirit Abreast came from far behind at the start to overtake the other boats and cross the finish line just ahead of them all.

Following the race, the Penticton Breast Cancer Team, Survivorship organized a carnation ceremony for the hundreds of people watching from shore.  After some moving words and the song “Pink*,” spectators and paddlers tossed pink carnations into the water to remember friends and family touched by this disease and those no longer with us.

With paddling season almost over, the Robusters will continue with their work to raise awareness of breast cancer and the role that healthy exercise can play in helping recovery.  The team will be at Waneta Mall on Sunday, Sept. 17 from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm for the Healthy Living Expo.  They will have a dragon boat paddling machine that you can try out and there will be lots of information about the sport and the team.  Plan to drop by for a visit.