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Ancient Sport Gives Strength to Cancer Patients, Survivors

The Alternative Press Staff

Monday, April 21, 2014 • 8:31am

SUMMIT, NJ - Participating in a sport that originated 2,500 years ago, Pathways Dragon Boat Team SOS is comprised of women who are either currently in treatment or long-term breast cancer survivors.  The ancient sport has been transformed into a unique way for breast cancer survivors to stay active and connect with others. 

Dragon Boating is an ancient Chinese ritual, whereby paddlers, in a synchronized rhythm, race competitively, as they believe that racing symbolized their struggle with nature and the fight against deadly enemies.  With their 'dragon’ at the helm, they would gain strength and vitality and avert misfortune.  This symbolism resonates with many breast cancer survivors who have formed teams all over the world.

A dragon boat is a 40-foot long, colorful wooden or fiberglass boat adorned with a dragon head at the front and tail at the back — which seats 20 paddlers and a drummer.  The team paddles in harmony to the beat of a drum.  At competitive events, ceremonial dragon heads and tails are attached to the boats.

The sport of dragon boating provides the benefit of vigorous exercise and may help prevent or relieve the symptoms of lymphedema — a common side effect after breast surgery or radiation.  

In 1996, Dr. Don McKenzie, MD, PhD, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia, believed that by following a special exercise and training program, such as Dragon Boating, Breast Cancer survivors could avoid lymph-edema and enjoy active full lives.  His program was carefully monitored by a team of physicians, a physiotherapist and a nurse.  McKenzie's theory was proven correct.  No new cases of lymph-edema occurred and none of the existing cases became worse.

Founded in 2008, Pathways Team SOS-NJ is an affiliate of the NJ Dragon Boat Club.  The team practices on Lake Parsippany, and are coached by Ellen Law, who is a U.S. National Team member.  Team SOS is one of the more than 50 survivor teams across the United States, and one of four such teams in New Jersey.

Members range in age from the mid 20's to mid 70's. and come from all over Northern and Central New Jersey. Some have joined the team while still undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and some are long-term survivors.

Pathways Team SOS-NJ is open to women of all fitness levels, with no o experience required,   The team practices every Monday night through October, and plans on attending five races.  For more information, or to register to join the team, contact If you are interested in joining our team, contact Michele Visco at 908 / 273-4242, Ext. 154.

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