Rowers, Dragon Boats Taking Over the Cuyahoga River

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By Elizabeth Miller

The Cleveland Dragon Boat Festival is one of two events taking over the Cuyahoga River this weekend, and shutting down commercial shipping lanes.  The festival and the sport have a special connection to one group in particular – cancer survivors.

If you make your way down to the river Saturday, you’ll see sleek shells from all over the country in the Head of the Cuyahoga Regatta.  51 clubs from 10 states plus Washington D.C. are signed up to participate in the competition.

You may also spot 47-foot-long boats that look like canoes, with 20 people paddling to the beat of a drummer keeping time.  Adopted from a Chinese tradition by countries all over the world, dragon boat racing is intensely physical.  That has attracted breast cancer survivors like Ketti Finneran of University Heights.

“Sometimes after people have cancer, they feel a little bit like maybe their body has failed them,” said Finneran.

“This is a way to come back strong and do it in a competitive way and a social way.”

Finneran is a part of The Gathering Place DragonFlys, a team of cancer survivors.  The DragonFlys will be joined by teams representing organizations or nothing at all, as well as teams.  They'll also be joined by a team of supporters - individuals chosen by each survivor.   

While the festival has had success over its 10 years, coordinator Michael Ciccarello says it’s been difficult to gain traction.

“In Cleveland we’re still struggling to get our name on the map in terms of dragon boating as a sport,” said Ciccarello.

Ciccarello notes a lack of awareness and possible safety concerns as reasons why the sport hasn’t caught on yet. 


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