- Food & Drink
- Travel & Lifestyle
- Arts & Culture
- News & City Info
The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival is one of the coolest events on the summer calendar.
It brings a couple thousand people to the south side of the city when most events focus on the north. Coming as it does in September, it stretches summer a wee bit longer and injects bucks into Penticton's hospitality sector when the tourist season is otherwise winding down.
And it gives locals a fully watchable two-day happening, complete with food trucks, product vendors and a beer garden, to enjoy.
But there's something else. And it's a biggie.
It's the festival's relationship with people battling, and surviving, breast cancer.
A few decades ago, the prevailing logic was that those with breast cancer (one in eight North American women will eventually develop it) should steer clear of upper-body exercise. But then a UBC sports medicine specialist named Dr. Donald McKenzie shook the tree by founding a dragon boat team specifically for women with a history of the disease.
He reasoned that the upper body workout would actually be a positive, as would the nurturing team-focused environment and the upbeat aquatic settings.
He called his team "Abreast in a Boat." It continues on today, and indeed regularly competes at Penticton.
And Dr. McKenzie? Primarily for his "seminal research on the effectiveness of exercise as an intervention for breast cancer patients," he was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2022.
Today, a sizable percentage of those competing in dragon boat races have been personally impacted by breast cancer. And at many events, there are special segments aimed primarily at them.
In Penticton, that means a rocking Sunday warm-up session on the beach, a series of races featuring teams comprised of breast cancer survivors, and an incredibly touching ceremony at water's edge where songs are sung, a minute of silence is observed and hundreds of carnations are tossed into the lake as a memorial for those lost.
This was the first time PentictonNow has covered that ceremony, and we don’t mind saying there were tears on our viewfinder.
One of the fitness leaders this past Sunday was a woman named Liz Vance, of Calgary. This was Vance's first time ever leading a fitness class, and she picked one with a few hundred pupils.
But she was fully committed and super inspiring, and seemed like she knew exactly what she was doing. Except at the end, she broke down and cried while accepting hugs and best wishes from those in the crowd.
"I did this for Sally Feast," she told PentictonNow afterward. "She's on the River Spirit team from Campbell River. Sally had cancer and she beat it. She brings the spirit to River Spirit. She leads all the fitness warm-ups.
"But her cancer has returned. So because she inspired me to be the strongest I can be, and knowing she has a fight ahead of her, that encouraged me to do what I just did. For her."
According to Vance, the River Spirit team did not attend this year's event, due in no small part to Feast's current cancer status.
"So I was in Calgary and I felt I needed to represent somehow. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, but I needed to do something. I needed to show how much she's loved. The strength for me to do that came from Sally."
Later we spotted an especially energetic young lady walking the foreshore, rather emphatically telling everyone she ran into to "Do your self exams" and "Have a mammogram."
But she did it all with a smile and a laugh. We figured that was pretty cool.
Turns out her name is Joy Andersen. She lives in Castlegar and paddles for the Kootenay Robusters, which on this day formed a hybrid squad with Edmonton's Parkland Dragons.
"I have to tell everyone out there," she said. "that in May I had my 30th anniversary since my breast cancer diagnosis. And I'm still cancer-free.
"I had an operation, I had chemotherapy, and I have to tell everyone that there is life after breast cancer, and it's a good, strong, healthy life. So do your self exam. Do have a mammogram."
Andersen is also a huge proponent of post-diagnosis exercise -- especially dragon boat exercise.
"Stay active," she said. "And if you have a breast cancer survivor team anywhere near you, join it.
"The support you get is unbelievable. The support I've personally received from the ladies I paddle with is amazing. It's important for your quality of life to have people in your life who understand what you're going through."
For more info on Penticton Paddle Sports Association, the local group that produces the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival and helps people get into the sport all year long, go here.
For more info on the South Okanagan Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Team, click here.