By Michelle Cannon Epting

During the last several decades, the benefits of Chinese medicine and other Eastern philosophies have become widely accepted in Western societies. In the same time period, a Chinese cultural tradition, the Dragon Boat Racing Festival, has gained popularity beyond its homeland. This year a group of very special men and women, in our own Brevard backyard, discovered the healing powers of the dragon boat.

The dragon holds symbolic meaning in Chinese culture, and the boats are designed to resemble the creature. Each boat has a drummer (to keep time for the paddlers) and a helm (steerer.)

dragon-boatOver the years dragon boating found its way to Brevard County and Beth Gitlin. After being diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and then going through chemotherapy, Beth completed treatment in December 2012. She found that several of her neighbors had been through the same diagnosis and experience. Among these neighbors were Linda and John Dyer. John, as it turns out, is a well-known dragon boating coach in Vermont, where he has held fundraisers to support community cancer organizations and support breast cancer research.

Jim Farintosh, who has held a three-week dragon boat camp at the Pines in Indian Harbour Beach for the last 15 years or so, kindly invited 20 women breast cancer survivors to come and try the sport in April 2013. Beth had watched the boats, holding teams from all over the world, for several years from her townhome across the river, Beth quickly fell in love with dragon boating. She attended the camp this year, during which the rigorous practice and playful atmosphere for the adult participants got her “hooked.”

Beth decided to start a team of breast cancer survivors and supporters in order to give those individuals a sense of community, fellowship, camaraderie, fun, and hope. After help and support purchasing boats and equipment, Beth held recruitment events and soon had enough people signed up to form two teams. Thus, the Heart and Soul Dragon Boat Paddlers (survivors) and the Banana River Boomers (supporters) teams were born in the spring of this year. A self-proclaimed “floating support group,” the crew is open to all ages and stages, with some of the team currently going through treatment. Its main purpose is to bring awareness and give its members a new focus — healing their spirits. Beth even “recruited” her husband, Scott Hoffman, to steer for the supporters.

“After all of the treatments are done, the checkups are over, and you get a clean bill of health, you’re still not back to yourself. Survivors often think, ‘OK, now what?’ You don’t want to talk about it. You still feel bad. This gives survivors a chance to do something, a place to go to move forward, and a way to feel camaraderie as they strive for a common goal,” Beth said.

Every four years, there is an international breast cancer survivor dragon boat festival held, which resembles a mini-Olympics. The festival includes a small village and parade with costumes, as well as a memorial ceremony. For the first time, the festival will be held in the U.S. in Sarasota October 23-27. Beth’s goal is to have her team become the first Brevard team to compete in the event with over 100 teams from all over the world. With Beth’s leadership, the team’s continued hard work, and the support of their community, this group of dragon boaters will surely represent Brevard proudly.

The team practices every Sunday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Oars and Paddles Park in Indian Harbour Beach.

For more information on the team, visit its Facebook page at Facebook.com/pages/Heart-Soul-Dragonboat-Paddlers/1438494049700831


The Heart and Soul Dragon Boat Paddlers