WEST WINDSOR: Paddle for Pink draws 50 teams

Dragon boats and cancer survivors joined forces on Saturday during Paddle for Pink, a day of racing and reflection on Mercer Lake.

By Payal Marathe, Special to the Packet
   Dragon boats and cancer survivors joined forces on Saturday during Paddle for Pink, a day of racing and reflection on Mercer Lake.
   The dragon boat festival was hosted by the Machestic Dragons, Mercer County’s dragon boat team comprised of breast cancer survivors and supporters. This year’s Paddle for Pink was the largest Mercer Lake has ever seen, with 50 teams from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., participating in 45 races.
   The Machestic Dragons are excited about Paddle for Pink growing into a larger event, as it allows them to raise more money and reach out to more people who have battled breast cancer, said Carol Watchler, president of the team.
   While the event donates to the Breast Cancer Resource Center in Princeton annually, this was the first year a portion of funds were also donated to the Cancer Institute of NJ for breast cancer research.
   Membership chair Linda Cannon said the team is proud to contribute to the search for better treatments and a possible cure for breast cancer.
   ”Research is an important function, because we all hope that some day there will be a cure found,” she said.
   The fact that the event has been raising larger amounts of money also allows the Machestic Dragons to accept individuals who would like to row with the team but cannot necessarily afford it, Ms. Watchler added.
   Paddle for Pink is representative of what the Machestic Dragons are all about – breast cancer survivors and supporters coming together to celebrate each other, honor those who have lost their lives to the disease and promote health and happiness.
   Ms. Watchler said she was “delighted” to be out on the water with so many people who share a common goal.
   ”We all feel an urgency about breast cancer awareness, and when we’re in a boat together it feels like one emotional and physical spirit paddling in the same direction to raise funds,” she said.
   Two ceremonies took place around lunchtime during Paddle for Pink, and Ms. Watchler said both are symbolic and significant.
   The first was an eye-dotting ceremony, when each eye of the dragons on a few boats was painted with a red dot. When the breast cancer survivor community borrowed dragon boating from the Asian community, they kept this tradition alive, Ms. Watchler said.
   Dragons are considered a positive force that can drive out evil, and dotting the eyes unleashes this power, Ms. Watchler said, adding that she finds it “very touching that the Asian community has welcomed the breast cancer survivor community with such open arms.”
   A flower ceremony followed, when individuals each threw a pink carnation onto the water.
   ”This tradition gives us a moment to reflect on the bravery of women and men who have lost to breast cancer,” Machestic Dragon Laurie Roe said. “As the carnations spread upon the surface of the water, we think about how these individuals have touched us, and how breast cancer survivors might continue to live active lives.”
   The health benefits of dragon boating are also emphasized by Paddle for Pink.
   Paddling is an excellent way to remain physically active, Ms. Cannon said, adding that dragon boating is a good way to prevent lymphedema, or fluid build-up following surgical removal of the lymph nodes during breast cancer treatment.
   According to Ms. Cannon, the Machestic Dragons have a roster of approximately 90 members, half of them breast cancer survivors and half are supporters.