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Cleveland Dragon Boat Fesitval Brings Cancer Survivors Together for Competition

photo of Team Dragonflys from Dragon Boating Festival

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 DC are signed up to participate in the competition.

But 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. This is a way to come back strong and do it in a competitive way and a social way," Finneran said.

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.  

While the festival has had success over its 10 years, coordinator Michael Ciccarello [chick-a-rellow] 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," he said.

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

This story was produced by Great Lakes Today,  a collaboration of WBFO Buffalo, Ideastream Cleveland and WXXI Rochester.