This dragon boat team of cancer survivors paddles together and finds strength in community and shared experience.
Nurse and personal trainer Donna Wilson co-founded Empire Dragons NYC in 2009 and recruited a team of seven breast cancer survivors. A decade later, the team has 52 members—many of whom are still survivors.
“I’m very lucky to have found all these other women who are literally in the same boat,” survivor Molly Helfet stated. “And we support each other.”
Dragon boat racing originated in China nearly 3,000 years ago. It involves a team of synchronized paddlers rowing for speed, a drummer coxswain, and a steersperson.
“It’s using all parts of the body, not just, you know, your upper body when you’re kind of in a kayak,” Wilson explained. “This is a very different stroke. So you use legs, core, and the upper body.”
Empire Dragons NYC participates in festivals and competitions around the world. They also belong to the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission and help raise money for cancer research. The team has also raised awareness about the pollution and water quality in their practice location of Flushing Bay, NY. Members have spearheaded green initiatives, including cleanups, water testing, and advocacy work.