Dragon boat paddlers make their way through the Selkirk waters during a practice night. The annual Victoria Dragon Boat Festival takes over the Inner Harbour this weekend, Friday through Sunday, with races and land-based elements. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

EDITORIAL: Dragon Boat Festival provides inspiration in Victoria

This weekend’s event features competition, courage and culture

Dragon boating in the Capital Region had humble beginnings, starting as a way for local breast cancer patients to engage in valuable upper body exercise while also working out their social muscles.

The combination has proven to be a winning one. Not only are there stories of breast cancer survivors continuing to stay involved in the sport, many of these courageous women were instrumental in getting the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival Society off the ground.

As the society prepares to launch its 23rd annual competition event this Friday (Aug. 18), we’d like to salute the individuals who have chosen to stay active in this way. They serve as inspirations to women currently battling breast cancer – the occasional man is diagnosed as well – as well as others who find dragon boating a great way to stay fit and be part of a tight-knit team.

This weekend’s activities will see heavy involvement from staff and volunteers with the B.C. Cancer Foundation, the festival’s primary fundraising benefactor. The annual Lights of Courage campaign has seen Fairway Market and Denny’s Restaurant raise more than $700,000 for cancer research since 2008 from sales of the colourful paper lanterns.

On Friday afternoon and evening, those lanterns are hung at the water’s edge at Ship Point, the epicentre of the festival, and people are encouraged to write messages of hope dedicated to those affected by cancer. The lantern light-up happens at 9 p.m.

There’s an extremely positive vibe that washes through this event, one that exudes healthy activity and togetherness. The teams are extremely competitive, that much will be evident to spectators. But the atmosphere around Ship Point is inviting for anyone, with live local music and cultural displays helping to attract visitors and keep the paddlers entertained through the weekend.

If you get a chance, check out this well-run and awe-inspiring exhibition of athleticism, teamwork and courage and perhaps make a donation to a worthy cause. There’s a good chance you’ll leave feeling healthier than when you arrived.