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Dragon boat racing on ice

From left, Kitty Whelan, Anna O’Connell, Kay Aylward, Louise Hustins and Madonna Cardoulis, all breast cancer survivors, travelled to Ottawa last weekend and took part in the annual Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival held on the Rideau Canal Skateway.
From left, Kitty Whelan, Anna O’Connell, Kay Aylward, Louise Hustins and Madonna Cardoulis, all breast cancer survivors, travelled to Ottawa last weekend and took part in the annual Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival held on the Rideau Canal Skateway. - Contributed

Breast cancer survivors take part in world-recognized event on Rideau Canal

Racing down the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa in a dragon boat equipped with skate-like blades, powered by 10 paddlers using spiked ice picks in mid-winter freezing temperatures, is not something Kay Aylward and four of her friends could imagine a few years ago.

But all of them are breast cancer survivors, so nothing is impossible.

Aylward, along with Kitty Whelan, Anna O’Connell, Louise Hustins and Madonna Cardoulis, took part in the annual Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival held on Feb. 8 and 9.

For Aylward, it was a bucket-list item since she heard about the event’s inaugural race in 2017.

“That year I saw Rick Mercer (on the “Rick Mercer Report”) taking part in it and I said then I wanted to do it,” Aylward said. “This year I said, ‘why not now?’”

The women are all members of the Avalon Dragons that operate out of Octagon Pond in the town of Paradise. Dragon boat racing got its start in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2006 and teams have competed in boat racing events in other provinces and other countries.

Competing on ice, however, is another matter.

A race about to start during the annual Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival held on the Rideau Canal Skateway last weekend. Five local women — members of the Avalon Dragons — took part.
A race about to start during the annual Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival held on the Rideau Canal Skateway last weekend. Five local women — members of the Avalon Dragons — took part.

“The biggest difference we found is you have to bang down on the pick, and then it stops in the ice. You don’t have the softness of the water, so it’s a lot harder on your shoulders and arms to move the boat,” Aylward said. “But once it gets going the boat moves along pretty good.”

Dragon boating, whether on water or ice, sends a message that people living with breast cancer can lead full, active and healthy lives.

Competitors from all over Canada, the United States and the world descend on Ottawa for the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival. The races proceeded along a 200-metre course and this year a record 125 teams took part. It is thought to be the largest event of its kind in the world.

“When we registered, we registered as individuals and we had to pick up more people because there are 10 paddlers in the boat,” Aylward said. “And we had to pick up a drummer and a steerperson.”

Aylward said that when they displayed the Newfoundland and Labrador flag, many other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who live in other parts of Canada and in the United States — who were also taking part in the races — introduced themselves.

“One of the ladies I spoke with, I learned her father worked with me at Newfoundland Power years ago,” Aylward said. “So I guess you find out it is a very small world.”

Their team, the Glacial Globetrotters, made the finals and competed in one of three women’s final races. They finished seventh in their race with a best time of 1:06:07. The Glacial Globetrotters also finished fifth in what was called the “Shiver and Giver” race that involved teams that raised the most money for charity.

Aylward said their team raised about $900.

The experience of taking part in the event was amazing and more than they could imagine, she said.

“It was just such a positive experience, despite it being freezing cold,” she said. “It was certainly a one-of-a-kind event. It was awesome. It was an extremely positive experience and everybody was so delighted to be a part of it.

“We’d all go back again. We might even encourage the Avalon Dragons to put in a full team.”

glen.whiffen@thetelegram.com

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