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Kit Mitsuoka

Submitted by Sandy Mitchell

Kit Mitsuoka: From Therapy to Inspiration

Twenty years after her breast cancer diagnosis, Kit Mitsuoka is paddling strong, and inspiring others to experience the power of the dragon…including her granddaughter Kailey!

“Dragon boating is therapy for me,” said Kit. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2003, Kit had 20 nodes removed; her arm was always sore, to the point she sometimes couldn’t lift a coffee cup. Then in 2008, her neighbor in Morro Bay, California, Jeanne L’Amoreaux, invited her to paddle with a new dragon boat team, the Central Coast SurviveOars. “Once I started dragon boating, my arm loosened up, and as long as I keep doing it, my arm feels great with no signs of lymphedema!” Kit explained.

Kit’s therapy blossomed into an international story of inspiration and personal discovery.

Kit has traveled with the Central Coast SurviveOars to dragon boat festivals in the United States and New Zealand.

In September 2024, she will compete in Ravenna, Italy at the IDBF Club Crew World Championships! Her team qualified for a spot in the All Cancer Paddler (ACP) division by winning gold in the 2,000 meter race at the 2023 Club Crew National Championships in Sarasota, Florida, with Kit as pacer.

“I don’t usually pace at a race; when Roe (coach Rose Marie Battaglia) told me I was going to pace for the 2000-meter, I couldn’t believe it!” Kit said. But after taking second place in both the 500-meter and 250-meter races, the team was determined to win the Gold. “I paddled so hard,” said Kit, “and after it was over, I was so proud of myself and my team; it was the first time that I felt I really made a difference.”

Kit’s love of dragon boating inspired her granddaughter, Kailey Mitsuoka, to start paddling at age 15; first with the Castaic Dragon Eyes, then the Los Angeles County Dragon Boat Club. Kit and Kailey shared the excitement of racing twice; at the Los Angeles County Dragon Boat Festival in 2021 and the Arizona Dragon Boat Festival in 2022. At the Arizona festival, they bot competed in the women’s division. Both Kit and Kailey went on to win at the national level with their respective teams; Kailey in 2022 (with Kit cheering her on!) and Kit in 2023.

For Kit, what started out as therapy has been life-changing. “It has been the best sport for me. We raised boys, and I was always ‘following’ their sports, but was a couch potato myself,” Kit jokes. “But with dragon boating, I found my place, and in my 70s, I’m winning races!”

Many paddlers on the Central Coast SurviveOars team were introduced to dragon boating by Kit. She often volunteers to sit with new paddlers to offer encouragement and gentle advice. When the boats were docked for several months in 2020-2021 due to the pandemic, Kit quietly helped to organize ‘kayak mornings’ and group walks to keep paddlers connected and active. Kit is an inspiration to everyone on the team; and a great dose of ‘therapy’ for all of us.