News & Events

Alliance Community Hospital team to race at Portage Lakes Dragon Boat Festival

July 10, 2013

By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published August 7, 2013

In support of their co-worker and breast cancer survivor Dawn Wagner, Alliance Community Hospital staff will take to the water Saturday during the Portage Lakes Dragon Boat Festival.

The inaugural event is being hosted by the Dragon Dream Team, an all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team that Wagner joined in February.

Wagner, a rehab dietician who has been with ACH for more than 20 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011 after a routine mammogram found the abnormality. After having lumpectomy surgery, she found herself sitting through long chemotherapy sessions, where she first came across brochures about the Dragon Dream Team. "I thought, 'That looks really cool,'" she recalled. "Then it was like, okay, this is a goal for me to get better."

Wagner trained throughout the winter months and will finally get a chance to race with the Dragon Dream Team Saturday. She is also serving as captain and coordinator of the ACH team -- dubbed the ACH Safety Squad.

Wagner said when she approached her ACH colleagues about forming a team for the festival, doctors and individual administrators opened their wallets and began making donations toward the $1,000 entrance fee, and while it took some time, she eventually was able to fill a boat with willing paddlers.

"I joined the team because Dawn is a great colleague here and in the community," said Debbie Clemens, RN, director of critical care.

Clemens and clinical dietician Beth Lawrence are two of the members of the ACH team that includes therapists, nurses and other staff, as well as their family members.

Dragon boat racing involves a 40-foot canoe-like boat filled with 20 paddlers and a pace-setting drummer and steer person at either end. The key to a good race is for paddlers to work in unison.

"You have to use teamwork to synchronize," Lawrence said, adding that the paddling is more vigorous than she realized.

Clemens said already being a team at ACH has made working together in the dragon boat an easy transition. "Because we are a team here, it made it really nice, because win or lose, we're just out there to have fun and show support," she added.

Wagner called the support of her friends and colleagues at ACH "powerful." She said throughout her treatment, her co-workers always asked how she was doing, even commenting when her hair finally began to grow back -- more curly than before.

"I worked through treatment. Because of the Family Medical Leave Act, I could work when I could and stay home and be sick on days that I was, and everybody was supportive here," Wagner said.

In addition to the support of her family and colleagues, Wagner has had the support of the Dragon Dream Team. "It's been wonderful. It's a really nice group of people," she said. "I didn't know anybody, but I went and said, 'I'd like to try this.' You try it and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but so far it has."

The Dragon Dream Team was formed in 2007, bringing the ancient Chinese water sport of dragon racing to Northeast Ohio. Decked out in bright pink attire and life jackets and wielding pink paddles, the team ranges in age from 28 to 85 -- although the eldest member and founder of the group doesn't race anymore.

"It's a support group for the cancer patients, but then it is also an outreach program," Wagner said of the team. She said through an outreach initiative called Boatloads of Hope, the group tries to spread its message and help other breast cancer patients and survivors. The team also participates in other endeavors besides boat racing, including the Susan G. Komen event and assisting with preparation of a camp for children with cancer.

The Portage Lakes Dragon Boat Festival, to be held at Turkeyfoot Lake in Portage Lakes State Park, will include fundraising through the sale of T-shirts and cookbooks to help fund Boatloads of Hope. The event will begin with an "Awakening of the Dragons" ceremony at 8:30 a.m., followed by racing of more than 20 northeast Ohio teams and other festival entertainment through 4 p.m. A "Boatloads of Hope" celebration ceremony will be held at noon. Admission for spectators is free.

For more information about the festival, visit www.portagelakesdrive.com. To learn more about the Dragon Dream Team, visit www.dragondreamteam.org.

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