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Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival 2000

Edmonton Journal

by Tom Barrett, Journal Staff Writer

The drums are already pounding for the fourth annual Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival. More than 200 people turned out Friday evening to kick off the celebration of ancient Chinese boat racing. A colourful Lion Dance punctuated by crackling fire crackers launched the combination cultural exhibition and athletic competition. ``These teams reallypaddle their shoulders off,'' said Dave Welsh, from the festival's board of directors. ``It's great entertainment.'' Each boat holds 18 paddlers, one drummer and one person to steer. The paddlers row to the rhythm of the pounding drum, which speeds up as they raise the tempo. ``There are top teams from the fire department, from the police, some very athletic teams from Calgary and others from across the country,'' says Welsh. Altogether 46 teams are entered. The races are 400-metre sprints with winning times in the area of three minutes. Organizers have changed the format this year so the boats will race upstream instead of downstream. Many of the Edmonton teams have been practising regularly on the river, using Rafters Landing as a starting point. Each team will race twice today and their averaged times will be used to place them in four different categories for Sunday's finals. The overall winner takes home the Edmonton Journal Cup, won last year by Who's team from Calgary. Dragon-boat racing is based on a 4th century B.C. Chinese legend about a beloved government minister, Qu Yuan, who threw himself in the river after he was wrongly expelled from the King's court. Boats raced out to save him but were too late. Dragon boat races are staged in China in June every year.

Edmonton Journal

by Angela Hall, Journal Staff Writer

When Pat Zwartjes' dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors took to the water Sunday, they did so with memories of a dear friend fresh in their minds. One day earlier, a funeral was held for Kathy Garrett-Arnold, a member of the local Breast Friends team. She died Aug. 16, after being diagnosed with cancer four years ago. ``Today was for Kathy,'' Zwartjes said. Garrett-Arnold's husband lent the team her paddle and they did better than ever, placing third out of six in the ladies challenge. Four teams of breast cancer survivors -- two from Calgary, one from Edmonton and one from Nova Scotia -- lined up for the final heat of the weekend on Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of spectators along the North Saskatchewan River stopped and stood to cheer the women. After their 400-metre sprint, the women linked their boats together and floated downstream as the Garth Brooks' song The River played over the loudspeakers in Louise McKinney park. The 80 women pulled out the pink carnations they had tucked in their life vests and waved them in air. At the cry, ``Let 'em go,'' they flung the flowers into the water. Paddlers too ill to row and family members did the same from the river bank. The ritual of remembrance is a tradition at dragon boat races across the country, and it was especially poignant for the member of Breast Friends this weekend. ``We threw the flowers at the end for Kathy,'' said Zwartjes, 59. ``For all those who died, but especially for Kathy.'' Zwartjes and Trudy Holt, 46, started Breast Friends in the city two years ago. They sat on a piano bench and demonstrated paddling at Reach to Recover meetings, and had soon recruited enough mothers, grandmothers, daughters and friends, all united by a battle against breast cancer, to form a team. They will travel to Kelowna to race next month. There are hardly words to describe being out on the water together, said Breast Friends president Mary Ann Empson. ``It's incredible. When you think you can't go one bit more, you get the strength. The camaraderie is great. It's really special.'' Many of the paddlers from Edmonton and Calgary sported plaid tartans around their necks, gifts from the Bosom Buddies of Nova Scotia. That team finished first in both the ladies race and breast cancer survivor challenge. ``I'm still shaking,'' said Beth MacGillivray, with the Bosom Buddies. ``Awesome is a good word to describe it.'' The team to take home the Edmonton Journal Cup for top honours was the River Rats, a mixed team from the Edmonton Dragon Boat Racing Club. In all, 46 teams competed over the weekend.