BELLEVILLE – The team at Belleville Dragon Boat Club  is getting ready for its first competition of the season at Waterfront Cultural and Ethnic Festival, but for some women on the team paddling is more than just a sport.
“I did it because it was new. It gave me a focus and it gave me the friendship of different people that shared the same likes and dislikes I do,” paddler Ann Lawrence said.
Lawrence began paddling with Belleville Pink Dragons — a team of breast cancer survivors — after having breast cancer. Her team entered a competition in Windsor competing against teams across North America without a coach or fancy uniforms and won a gold medal, she says.
“The thing about paddling in a pink dragon boat is nobody is too critical of technique because we all had something wrong with us. You know some people didn’t have any hair, some people just had chemo, some people just got out of hospital so it was the group that got me through it,” she says.
Nancy Lewis is the commodore of the Belleville Dragon Boat club. The Pink Dragons are part of the overall club. The Waterfront Festival is a key event in the dragon boat season. Lewis says that Waterfront Festival has been hosting races in conjunction with the club and a community organization since 2014. This year the proceeds from the race’s entry fees go back to the United Way of Hastings and Prince Edward. 
“It’s a nice day because people can wander around. We market it to out of town. Teams come to the waterfront spend time at our festival come and see the entertainment that’s on and so it’s a good tourist opportunity. We’ve had teams from Ottawa. We’ve had teams from Stratford and Kingston to Toronto and Brampton,” she says.
Whether paddling for fun or competing in a race, dragon boating attracts a diverse demographic. Volunteers from the club help find teams wanting to enter the waterfront race, she says.
Manon MacFarlane says began paddling with her two twin daughters when they were about 16 years old. The first year that they paddled was in the recreational team and they moved onto the race team the following year, she says.
Some of the differences? On the fitness and recreation team, one learns how to paddle and exercise, she says. There are races still, but they are more there for enjoyment than competition, she says. The race team travels around more and competes, she says.
“I met lots of people. I’ve made lots of friends. I was on the board. Well I’m still on the board now. I was the Commodore for a couple of years. Just being involved in the community. Getting out there. Meeting people,” MacFarlane says when asked what her favourite part of dragon boating is.
The Belleville Waterfront and Ethnic Festival dragon boat race will happen on Saturday, July 14.