About six years ago, when Marietta resident Gretchen Feldmaier learned that she had terminal breast cancer, she shared her dream of establishing a dragon boat racing team in the Mid-Ohio Valley with a few of her close friends, including Marietta resident Judy Baker.
Despite the fact that she's been scared to death of the water since childhood, Baker agreed to help make Feldmaier's dream a reality.
"(I thought) that if this is something she saw as important, I had to try it," said Baker, who turns 62 today. "Gretchen attended our first meeting, but died soon after."
Photo submitted by Cathy Rees.
The MOV'n Dragons paddle through the water during the Marietta Riverfront Roar.
Today, Feldmaier's dream lives on in the 30 member strong Mid-Ohio Valley dragon boat organization, the MOV'n Dragons. It's made up of both men and women, some of whom are cancer survivors (although they prefer to call themselves "thrivers") and others who have loved ones who have survived the disease. Baker is one of the survivors, having overcome breast cancer.
Baker said dragon boating originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and it has since grown into a worldwide sport.
Baker said after years of recommending that cancer survivors take it easy, doctors are instead placing more emphasis on the importance of team sports for cancer survivors.
If you go
What: MOV'n Dragons new member orientation.
When: 9:30 to 11 a.m., May 7.
Where: Marietta College boathouse, Gilman Avenue, Marietta.
Interested individuals over 18 will be introduced to the basics of paddling, safety procedures and practice in the boat. Participants are asked to dress for practice in any weather.
Cost: Dues are $35 a year.
"Doctors ... said you need to be doing a team sport with people who understand your history and situation...so (dragon boating) teams started forming all over the world," Baker said.
The MOV'n Dragons' season typically begins in May and ends in September, Baker said, and during that time, the group devotes hours to practicing and participates in numerous dragon boat festivals and tournaments. This year, the group may travel as far away as Richmond, Va. and Covington, Ky. for races.
The boat they use is 45 feet long, weighs about 500 pounds, holds 20 paddlers and is appropriately named "Gretchen's Phoenix". The boat, paddles and life jackets were purchased with an initial contribution made by Feldmaier herself, as well as donations made in her memory to the Marietta Community Foundation.
The group hopes to recruit more members during a new member orientation, scheduled for May 7. Baker said this is the first year there will be beginner sessions offered for those who only want to be recreational paddlers rather than competing.
While paddling the dragon boat is a lot of fun, it's also a lot of hard work, said Marietta resident Cathy Rees, 55, a member of the team for about four years.
"Your body screams at you from time to time," she said.
Rees is not a cancer survivor, but rather, a supporter of one. She joined the team after one of her friends, who has overcome breast cancer, asked her to join.
"I've always been active my whole life, but at my high school, we didn't have any organized sports for women, so this is my first team sport and I absolutely love it," Rees said. "I love the camaraderie and the support we give one another - it's a great way to stay active and stay in shape."
Baker also acknowledged that dragon boating is hard work, saying "it's not checkers". Still, she said it's more than worth the time, effort and dedication she devotes.
"Dragon boating isn't for everybody, but it has added so much to my life and I know the lives of others," she said. "Even going up and down the river for practice...you feel like you've done something good for yourself and good for a cause."