Residents Head to Hong Kong for Dragonboat Races

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Thursday June 21, 2012

Down at the Burlington waterfront, South Burlington resident Karin Clarke climbs into a 41-foot dragon boat for two hours after a long day at work. She does this four times a week with her dedicated cancer survivor dragon boat team, the Dragonheart Vermont Sisters. Each practice is one stroke closer to what will soon be their exciting reality: a chance to compete in the World Club Crew Dragon Boat Championships in Hong Kong from July 4-8.

Clarke is a six-year cancer survivor, and she is also a six-year member of Dragonheart Vermont. A co-worker invited Clarke to join the 160-member team comprised of both survivors and supporters all across Vermont. The eight-year-old group, founded by Executive Director Linda Dyer, consists of three breast cancer teams, one 50-plus women’s team, 18 and older women’s team, and one co-ed team. The Dragonheart Vermont Sisters team—after finishing first place in the Eastern Regional Dragon Boat Association last summer—was invited to compete against over 200 elite teams across the world in the challenging waters of Victoria Harbor with an expected 50,000 pairs of eyes watching. The team members will be arriving early to acclimate themselves with the weather conditions and learn about the culture.

“We have really seasoned paddlers on our team...we’ve done some pretty good rugged paddling so I think we will be prepared,” Clarke said. “It’s been pretty exciting and it’s time to start packing.”

The sport of dragon boat racing is 2,500 years old and attracts about 50,000 participants worldwide. A team consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steer person (there will only be 18 paddlers for Hong Kong due to rough waters). A prominent sign of the sport is the front end of the boat which showcases the head of the dragon. According to the Dragonheart Vermont site, “The race has come to symbolize both man’s struggle against nature and his fight against dangerous enemies.” This symbol has a special meaning for those battling breast cancer or paddling in memory of someone; the team makes it a priority to overcome each and every challenge together.

“We’re going to do our Dragonheart team proud and Vermont proud,” Dyer said. Being invited to partake in the prestigious race left the team in “disbelief” she said, but it goes far beyond that. The team will be extending its “message of hope” for breast cancer awareness at the international level.

“It’s an incredible amount of dedication and bravery and sheer will to paddle,” Dyer added. “ You push your body to go beyond what you ever thought you could do.”

Dragonheart Vermont further extends its message of hope via Survivorship Now, a resource on living well and support for cancer survivors. Education, nutrition, exercise, spirituality, and connections with other cancer survivor are some of the free services offered to cancer survivors.

“There is life after breast cancer,” Dryer said. “ A very good life.”

There are two other avid dragon boat racers who will be making the same trip. SB resident Gisela Veve and Burlington resident Liisa Reimann met at a 2007 Dragonheart Vermont informational meeting and became invested in the sport ever since. They now paddle for the Montreal Elite Senior Women, a team comprised of women over 40. With their exceptional performances at the Canadian National Championships last year, they too have been invited to Hong Kong.

Veve and Reismann train six days a week, two of which they travel to Montreal. They participated in a week-long Spring training camp in South Carolina, and continued paddling in smaller events. Their team also hired a nutritional specialist who has worked with the USA volleyball team.

Between weight training, paddling, running, healthy eating, and full-time jobs, a lot of time is spent away from the family, which is a big sacrifice these women have made, Veve said. Support from family and friends is essential when committing to dragon boat racing. Furthermore, it is essential to have a friend who shares the same passion and will be there for better or for worse, which is what Reismann has been for Veve, she said.

“You need that person to be there for you,” Veve said. Having a partner helps with setting high goals and working hard in the follow-through. For example, Veve and Reismann hope to do well at the Canadian National Championships in 2013 and become a qualifier to compete in Italy.

Dragon boat racing is a large time commitment, but the paddlers have no regrets.

“It’s what I’m doing, who I’m with, and therefore who I am,” Veve said.
You can help fund The Dragonheart Vermont Sisters trip by purchasing a pink pennant by calling 802-999-5478 or e-mail For more information about Survivorship Now, please visit and keep up with Veve and Reismann, the “hungry dragons” on their blog: Check back with The Other Paper for results and comments about the Hong Kong event.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent