Gina Burgos has been competing in the Rose Regatta Dragon Boat Festival for six years. For her it’s not only the competition she loves, but the dragon boat races punctuate a milestone in her life — being cancer-free for 12 years.
“I believe early detection saves lives because it saved mine,” Burgos said. “These races are for a great cause because they benefit the R.E.D. (Responsible Early Detection) Rose Program. A lot of doctors recommend dragon boat races for exercise.”
At one time physicians warned cancer survivors that taking part in strenuous exercises after surgery was bad because it might cause lymphedema, swelling of the lymph nodes in the upper arm areas. But Dr. Donald McKenzie of the University of British Columbia proved the theory wrong.
In 1996, McKenzie trained a team of breast cancer survivors in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a dragon boat festival. The women who participated didn’t experience lymphedema and showed improvements in upper-body strength.
Dragon boats are long boats that seat between 18 and 20 athletes made up of paddlers, a steersman at the helm and a drummer who sets the speed and synchronicity of the paddlers. Boats are decorated with Chinese dragon heads and tails.
The 11th annual Rose Regatta Dragon Boat Festival is being held Saturday and Sunday at Lake Las Vegas. All of the money raised through team sponsorships and corporate donations stays in Southern Nevada and goes to Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican’s R.E.D. Rose Program.
The money is used to provide mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, breast cancer diagnoses and financial support for patients during treatments to cover rents, utilities, groceries and transportation.
“Typically, insurance doesn’t cover mammograms until you are over 50 years old,” Burgos said. “I was first diagnosed when I was 36 years old. This program helps with early detection. We are literally raising money to save peoples’ lives,” which she said includes treatment for men.
The Health Resources and Services Administration said that in 2018 more than 2,000 cases of male breast cancer were diagnosed, resulting in some 400-plus deaths. HRSA also said that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States, adding that approximately one in eight women, 12 percent, will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
Terry Maurer, 57, recently celebrated her 14th year of being cancer-free. She returns again this year as the regatta’s race director, setting a goal of raising $25,000 to benefit the R.E.D. program.
“I’m extremely passionate about this program,” Maurer said. “This is the first time the race will be held over two days, so we can cater to out-of-state teams and make it a long weekend.”
Abreast in a Boat, the Canadian team that started dragon-boat racing under McKenzie, has signed up to participate in this year’s races. It will be joined by some 60 other local and out-of-state teams including the popular Pink Paddlers Dragon Boat Team, Las Vegas’ first boat-racing team of breast cancer survivors.
Andrea Liebl, a teacher at Valley High School, is the team captain of Bosom Buddies and Desert Dragons. She has been competing in the Rose Regatta for 10 years.
“I got the dragon-boat bug and started attending coaching clinics,” Liebl said of her dedication to the sport. “It’s the comradeship. You get 20 people on that boat smiling and having a good time. … And I know all the money goes to charity for St Rose. This is in our own backyard.”
Liebl said she has 60 people on the roster for both teams. The youngest is 26 years old, and the oldest is 76. Bosom Buddies races locally, and Desert Dragons is the travel team, averaging eight races a year.
Sanaa Makram, a member of the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging team, has been participating in the Rose Regatta for 10 years. Steinberg sponsored two teams this year for a total of $3,500.
“We (Steinberg) always want to give back to the community,” Makram said. “For racers, everyone knows each other, and Lake Las Vegas is such a family-orientated place. It’s kind of like a big party out there.”
Makram recently had the honor of being asked to join Team USA of the United States Dragon Boat Federation. Team USA competed Aug. 20-25 in the 14th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Pattaya-Rayong, Thailand.
“I tried out in November, and in May I found out I was selected,” Makram said. “It was nerve-wracking waiting to hear back. We competed against 29 other countries.”
Makram’s Senior A Division won eight silver and four bronze medals at the international competition. Overall, the United States won 36 medals and came in third place out of all of the countries competing.
“While the goal is to raise important funds to support the mission of the R.E.D. Rose Foundation, we also manage to have a little fun,” Holly Lyman, director of community health at Dignity Health, said of the Rose Regatta.
“In addition to all the community teams out on the water, we have a special hospital heat where each of our three acute-care hospitals — Rose de Lima, Siena and San Martin — fills a boat with 20 paddlers, and we find out who has what it takes to take home the traveling dragon trophy, which floats between campuses. It’s like the Stanley Cup, only smaller.”
To register for this year’s races, donate or for more information, email Terry Maurer at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 702-497-3385 or visit lvdragonboatclub.com.