With the beat of a drum keeping pace and the voice of a coxswain urging them forward, 20 paddlers row in unison, propelling a 40- to 50-foot long dragon across the water. An ancient legend has moved across the ocean to find a place in the Americas and with a group of determined cancer survivors has taken on a new meaning.
“Awaken the Dragon,” a 2012 documentary by Liz Oakley, follows a newly formed dragon boat team through eight festival competitions, the endless early morning practices and all of the laughter and tears that accompany any group with a will to survive the dreaded “C” word.
The documentary will be shown from 5 to 7 p.m. July 11 in the University Hall Theatre of the Bayh College of Education at ISU, 401 N. Seventh St. It is open to the public and there is no charge to attend. But a free will donation would be appreciated with the proceeds to benefit the Wabash Valley Breast Cancer Survivors Inc. The funds will be used to promote psychosocial needs of women (and men) with breast cancer through education and other awareness efforts.
The film is sponsored by the Chinese School of the Wabash Valley and OLLI at ISU. For more information contact Marlene Lu at 812-241-5455 or 812-237-2842.
Dragon boat racing has its beginnings in Chinese folklore with the tales of Chu Yuan, a descendant of the imperial family of 4th Century China, was prime minister of the kingdom of Ch’u (known now as Hubei). When he objected to use of force by one of the provincial kings trying to extend his territory, he was banished, never to return to power. He became a wanderer in the region of Northern Hunan and T’ung-Ting Lake. Despondent when the officials turned a deaf ear to his council, Chu jumped into T’ung Ting Lake clasping a great rock in his arms.
The villagers raced their long canoes into the river, desperately trying to save him, but they were too late. In order to keep the fish and to ward off the dragon spirits who lived in the water away, they beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles and threw rice dumplings (zongzi) wrapped in bamboo leaves as an offering to his spirit. The act of racing to search for his body and the traditions of the dumplings still happen on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar.
A sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia launched “Abreast in a Boat” in 1996 to test the myth that repetitive upper body exercise in women treated for breast cancer encourages lymphedema. Dr. Don McKenzie believed that a special exercise and training could not only increase the risk, but it would actually improve their quality of life. Since 1996 hundreds of breast cancer survivors across the world have formed dragon boat teams and paddle and race regularly, promoting good health and fun.