When Lisa Ross was diagnosed with two rare bone-marrow disorders seven years ago, doctors didn’t believe she was ill. Since then, she has used dragon-boat racing as a way of raising awareness about aplastic anemia and myelodysplasia.
“When I got treated poorly in a hospital, I decided I wanted people to know these diseases exist and raise awareness,” she said. Ross has aplastic anemia and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, which result when the marrow produces fewer blood cells.
Ross helped start Team Phoenix, a Victoria-based team taking part in the 19th annual Canada Dry Dragon Boat Festival in the Inner Harbour. The money the team raises goes to the Aplastic Anemia and Myelodysplasia Association of Canada.
She has been dragon boating since 2005, taking some time off between injuries, but loves the community spirit she has seen racing foster.
Team Phoenix includes first-timer Kath Hooson, who moved to Victoria from London, Ont., in February. Looking to meet new people and indulge her desire to keep fit, she joined Team Phoenix.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “It’s been brilliant and lots of fun.”
This year’s event has 80 teams participating, with 35 coming from the capital region. The race is seeing more teams from out of the country, with 10 from Portland signing up this year.
Organizers with the festival society hope the event, which is sandwiched between two other dragon boat races in Victoria — a local race held last week and nationals next week — will start to get more teams from across Canada interested.
“We would love to see more teams from Toronto and Ottawa coming and others from out east,” said Glenys Haskins, the festival society’s general manager.
For longtime racers, seeing the race grow is satisfying.
When Karen Wilson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, she saw her world collapse.
“Dragon boating was the light at the end of the tunnel for me,” said the 66-year-old, who has competed since 1998.
She has competed with two teams — the Island Breaststrokers and Extreme Reach — and now coaches Every Step Counts.
Members of Every Step Counts, a walking and running group for people dealing with difficult issues such as mental health, addiction and poverty, have practised paddling only eight times and Wilson said the emphasis is on having a good time.
The festival ends today, with the final races and awards ceremonies being held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
© Copyright 2013