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Dragons of Hope, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Submitted by Mary-Jean Cormier

For Thunder Bay's Dragons of Hope, 'hope' truly is the key. As breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams, we all live in 'hope' that we will live another day, week, month or year, and of course, paddle another race. But in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, it's definitely a good thing that ‘hope’ seems to spring eternal.

To start the Dragons of Hope season, the team has to 'hope' for an early thaw so they can start training by the end of May. They 'hope' each winter that shifting ice doesn't do too much damage to their boat launch or dock -- so it can be used for another season. A few years ago, the team could only 'hope' they would get on the water at all, because the human-made lake the team trains on was drained for dam work!

Once the paddling season gets underway, they 'hope' that thunderstorms won't send them off the water in the summer, or that fall’s cool weather doesn’t push their dragon boat back into storage too soon.

The team also has to ‘hope’ to have a full boat of paddlers, since their city has a fairly small population base, and they also 'hope' to find a place to actually race, since there are no races held in Thunder Bay. This year the Dragons found a great event, the inaugural Welland Hope Floats Challenge at the beautiful Welland International Flatwater Centre in Southern Ontario, but at a distance of nearly 1000 kilometres away.

The Dragons always ‘hope’ to introduce more survivors to the great benefits of paddling, and to share the sheer joy and satisfaction that comes with racing. It’s that ‘hope’ that led to new outreach ideas and an introduction kit to welcome potential paddlers and new members this past season.

In the last couple of years, the team's deep pool of 'hope' led to some lofty goals. This past season the Dragons paddled a brand new, -- and very light -- boat. In the past, the team paddled heavy wooden and fiber glass boats, that frequently left splinters in their bottoms! After trying the newer, lighter dragon boats at the Paddlers Abreast Festival in Vancouver in 2022, they had 'hope' they could raise the funds to buy one and launched the Float Our Boat campaign.

Through new fundraising ideas, including the launch of the first annual pink dragon wing begonia sale, and a big boost from their local Thunder City Speedway, the team's ‘hope’ cups have overflowed. Now the Dragons are arranging the purchase of new PFDs for the whole team, but 'hope' they won't ever need to test them!

Now they are looking ahead with ‘hope’ as they continue to recruit and train new paddlers and work toward an exciting new goal – to attend the 2026 IBCPC Participatory Festival in France.