When Janet Bright steps off the dock in the Gorge Waterway and into a dragon boat, she becomes a new person.
Paddling through the water, alongside 20 other people, in perfect unison, with the dragon boat gliding along the water brings Bright a sense of power she doesn’t feel in anything else.
“Just to feel the surge of the boat when everybody paddles together, it moves so well in the water. You have no idea how fast you’re going until you see the distance you’ve actually covered,” said the 65-year-old Esquimalt resident, who is encouraging others to try the sport. “Just the feeling of being on the water and paddling, it’s a very special feeling.”
It’s a passion that was ignited nearly two decades ago after Bright won her battle with breast cancer. As a cancer survivor, she searched for ways to exercise but found she couldn’t run marathons and participate in other sports. That’s when a friend invited her down to the Gorge to try her hand at dragon boating with the Fairway Gorge Paddling Club.
Bright admits she wasn’t sure if she could do it at first, but after that lesson, she caught what is known as the “dragon boat bug.” Now, 19 years later, dragon boating has helped her remain physically fit and social, being on the water anywhere from two to three times a week (depending on the time of year), year-round. Currently, she competes with Team Momentum.
While her battle with breast cancer was physically and emotionally draining, dragon boating has given Bright a new outlook on life.
“I thought with breast cancer, literally your life is over, but there’s no way. It (dragon boating) gave me the courage to go on,” Bright said, adding the sport isn’t about arms, but about the strength of one’s core and back.
“It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, you get in that boat and literally everyone is in the same boat. We are a team … anyone can do it.”
Bright is one of several members of the paddling club, who are encouraging residents in Greater Victoria to come out and try the sport as part of an open house this weekend, in which people of all ages can participate. Coaches will be on hand to teach the basics of paddling and learn about the club, which has one of the largest facilities in the province.
“Lots of people see dragon boat like they’ve seen it out of the corner of their eye at festivals and in the Inner Harbour in the summer, but they never make the connection that they can do it,” said Erik Ages, general manger of the club and the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival, adding people are often delighted after they finish their first lesson.
“The open houses that we have a couple of times a year surprise people because they climb into a dragon boat and they have a lot of fun and they work harder than they thought they could … it changes their perspective of it.”
There will be on-water coaching sessions every 30 minutes, beginning at noon. Life jackets and paddles will be provided. Children under the age of 10 should have an adult accompanying them in the boat.
The open house takes place Sunday, March 26 from noon to 3 p.m at the Selkirk Waterfront (2940 Jutland Rd).