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Dragon boating can create new bonds and deepen existing ones, as these two women found at a previous year's South Lake Dragon Boat Festival. The event returns to Waterfront Park on Saturday, April 30, with proceeds to benefit New Beginnings. (File photo)
New Beginnings brings dragon boats, with the
sport's fascinating history, to Waterfront Park
The third annual South Lake Dragon Boat Festival will be held Saturday, April 30, from 8:30am to 4pm at Waterfront Park, but do you know the background of this event? "With its beginnings in ancient Southern China 2000 years ago, dragon boating today is the fastest growing international team water sport," declared Linda Smith, co-founder of New Beginnings of Central Florida. "Each year, race festivals are held around the world."

"]This exciting sport appeals to a wide variety of skill levels, from competitive to novice, and age groups from youth to seniors," she added. "The sport offers a team building experience, which is why so many business groups and organizations have retreats and training with it outdoors. Others use dragon boat racing as a social meet up while getting exercise. And then you have your competitive teams from a club that travel to win locally, nationally and internationally."

According to Smith, what many people don't know is how popular dragon boat racing has become with breast cancer survivors. Twenty years ago in Canada, a sports medicine doctor and oncologists  began to research the results of paddling/rowing with breast cancer patients. They found that this type of exercise can assist a patient after surgery by rebuilding muscle strength, improve flexibility and range of motion.

"Results have shown that many patients improve their sense of well-being," Smith related. "As a result of these findings, a worldwide phenomena of 'pink paddlers' was born. There are now world championships held specifically for breast cancer survivors."
 
The colorful dragon boat is 42 feet long, with 10 rows which seat 20 paddlers. A steer person uses a 9 foot oar as a rudder, standing in the stern. The drummer sits at the bow, facing the crew.

"The South Lake County Dragon Boat Festival began three years ago as a fund raising event for New Beginnings," Smith stated. "It was our goal to offer to the public a free event with sponsor partners in the effort of ending homelessness and improve the quality of life for those in need."

New Beginnings chose Waterfront Park on Lake Minneola in Clermont as the venue site. With its extensive layout along the shore including beach, water park, numerous pavilions and docks, it was exactly what the not-for-profit organization was looking for.

"In addition to dragon boat racing, a festive atmosphere takes place, with live entertainment including Asian performers bringing us back to experience the Asian culture," Smith elaborated. "Vendors, food, a kids zone and health professionals are all present, making this event attractive for all ages."

With the focus on promoting healthy living, and health choices, this year's presenting sponsor is the new UF Health Cancer Center/Orlando Health at South Lake Hospital.

"Each year our event has grown in popularity, with an estimated 4,000 attending last year and the formation of the Clermont Dragon Boat Club in the summer of 2015," Smith shared.

New Beginnings hosts this event every year to raise awareness and help fund transitional housing and programs for the homeless they provide in Lake County. Admission to the Dragon Boat Festival is free.

"Come out and enjoy delicious food, entertainment and stage shows from Gatorland and Medieval Times, a fun kid zone, petting zoo, and cheer on your favorite team in the races," Sandy Farnsworth, event organizer for New Beginnings, declared.

How can you get involved in this growing sport or help New Beginnings eradicate homelessness? To volunteer, sponsor, or get involved with New Beginnings, visit the organization's website at www.@nbcfl.org. For further information on participating as a vendor, sponsor or paddling on a team visit southlakecountydragonboat.com.

Join or visit the Clermont Dragon Boat Club by emailing lindasmith@nbcfl.org. The club has a meet up / practice on most Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Clermont Boathouse ramp. They are looking to add teams to their club, which include a Breast Cancer Survivor team and a Senior team (55 up), and all other ages 14 and up.
 
"We're looking forward to having you join us for a fun day cheering on the Dragons," Smith enthused.

For more information about the event, contact Sandy Farnsworth at 352-617-8788 or email at sandyfarnsworth@nbcfl.org.


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