The Kootenay Robusters line up for a team photo in Kelowna. (Submitted)

The Kootenay Robusters line up for a team photo in Kelowna. (Submitted)

Kootenay Robusters race at the Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival

Tugboat Bay in Waterfront Park was the setting for last weekend’s festival.

Tugboat Bay in Waterfront Park was the setting for last weekend’s festival, organized by the Kelowna Dragon Boat Paddling Society.

Twenty-five teams travelled from the Lower Mainland, Alberta, the North and the Kootenays to take part in a series of races, ranging in length from 200 metres to 1,000 (the so-called “Guts and Glory”). However, the usual 500 metre races were eliminated because of smoky conditions caused by the Joe Rich Fire. Paddlers ranged in age from 14 to 82, since dragon boating is truly a lifetime sport.

The Kootenay Robusters went out and paddled well, finishing with a silver medal in the Platinum B division. There are still aspects of racing that need to improve before the team takes part in the larger Penticton festival, but this one provided a good chance to video the races and pinpoint areas needing attention. Race training this summer was impacted by the smoky conditions at Christina Lake, which required cancellation of many practices. Under normal conditions the team would have had more time to focus on preparation.

Team spirit was much in evidence as six Robusters took part in a fundraising race for the Canadian National Association for the Blind. Teams competed with all the paddlers wearing blindfolds and focusing on their other senses to keep in time. The team with the Robusters taking part walked away with gold medals in this event. There are several visually impaired teams in B.C., although none were at this festival.

The Breast Cancer Survivor race used a different format this year. Two “official” breast cancer teams had registered to race but the Kootenay Robusters didn’t have enough survivors to take part, so Bustin’ Loose, the Kelowna team, suggested we invite breast cancer survivors from all other teams at the festival to join us (there are usually several survivors on recreational teams). Once everyone was there, paddlers numbered off to form teams that contained a random selection, and then headed out to race. Once again, a team with at least six Robusters on it won the Hardy Cup — the prize for the fastest breast cancer survivor team.

Following the race, a moving Carnation ceremony was held to remember friends and family who have survived breast cancer, are undergoing treatment or are no longer with us. Paddlers and spectators waved pink carnations in the air while listening to Garth Brooks’ The River. Following tradition, they then tossed them into the lake.

The festival had a bittersweet ending as we said goodbye to long time team member, Barb Cornelius, who is moving to Coquitlam with her husband, Bob. Barb has been steersperson for two years and we will miss her quiet strength and commitment to the team.

Now the team will be recruiting a steersperson (or several) to start learning the ropes at the beginning of next season. If anyone out there thinks that this might be something you’d like to try, please contact Joy Anderson in Castlegar at 250-365-3794 or Jeannie Tourcotte in Christina Lake at 250-442-6169. Training will be provided and there will be lots of support to learn the technique of steering a dragon boat.