Inspired by film, cancer survivors found DragonBoat Beaufort

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 12, 2012 

  • DragonBoat Beaufort is a start-up organization that provides physical and mental therapy for cancer survivors and patients through rowing as a 22-member team in races. The group also plans to raise money for local causes benefiting cancer patients.

  • To get involved, email or call 843-522-0200.

  • Learn more by going to

  • Watch the trailer for "Awaken the Dragon" at, or see a screening April 21 at University of South Carolina Beaufort, at a time to be determined.

  • By the time the lights went up after the screening of "Awaken the Dragon" at the Beaufort International Film Festival, Clare Taylor and Mary Ann Thomas knew they had a new project.
  • "It was definitely a moment," Thomas said.

    They are part of a group organizing DragonBoat Beaufort, a competitive boat racing team for cancer survivors. Inspired by the camaraderie and support captured in the documentary about Dragon Boat Charleston, the two breast-cancer survivors want to bring the same opportunity to Beaufort.

    "I just boohooed, because I know the support people need," Thomas said of the documentary, which won Best Documentary and Audience Choice awards during the February film festival.

    The film follows the members of Dragon Boat Charleston as they train for competitions across the country and around the world. Some are cancer survivors, some are supporters and some are undergoing treatment.

    It's a story Thomas can relate to. In 1989, doctors said she had a 5 percent chance of living five more years. After going through a decade of treatments, she knows mental and physical support for cancer patients is crucial.

    An ancient Chinese sport, dragon boats hold about 20 paddlers, one drummer to keep the pace and one steerer. Teams also sprint for several hundred meters, according to the International Dragon Boat Federation.

    The number of races a team competes in depends on how often and how far members can travel. Dragon boat racing was first used as therapy for breast cancer survivors in Vancouver, Canda, in 1996, and cancer-related teams have sprung up worldwide. They race alongside community and club teams.

    DragonBoat Beaufort organizers are working quickly. Within hours of watching the documentary, Taylor had business cards in hand and was giving them out to members of the Charleston dragon boat team in town for the screening. Within four days, they had the first members of a board that will eventually include 21 people.

    They're working on fundraising and hope to begin training within a month, Taylor said.

    They also need a boat, which can cost as much as $18,000, but she believes they have found a deal that will cost about half that.

    "A., we need an angel to buy us a boat or two," she said. "B., we just need to get in the water."

    The goal is to fill the team with cancer patients and survivors, Taylor said. Team members can be of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels.

    "We're in our 60s, but when you're out there paddling, it doesn't matter," Taylor said of herself and Thomas.

    Dragon Boat Charleston is advising the fledging Beaufort group and offering assistance. Taylor said organizers hope to conduct a festival like the one in Charleston to raise money for the program and for cancer patient support programs.

    Sterling Hannah of Dragon Boat Charleston said corporations and community groups sponsor teams to race during the festival.

    The festival is a big moneymaker, which helps Dragon Boat Charleston remain free for cancer patients, she said.

    "To race together is an amazing experience and dragon boating is a wonderful analogy for life and for fighting cancer," Hannah said. "You can't move a 41-foot-plus boat by yourself, you can't fight cancer by yourself, you can't go through life by yourself."

    Follow reporter Erin Moody at

    Related content:

    Dragon Boat Charleston

    "Awaken the Dragon" documentary

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