Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia in Canada, launched Abreast In A Boat in 1996 to test the myth that repetitive upper-body exercise in women treated for breast cancer encourages lymphedema. The boat team was launched after a cardiorespiratory fitness levels study was conducted on two groups of women – one group had been treated for breast cancer, the other group had no history of breast cancer.
Dragon boating was chosen as the venue for several reasons. It is strenuous, repetitive, upper body exercise, it provides an opportunity to work with a large group at one time, and it is an esthetically pleasing activity that is fun.
Dr. McKenzie believed that by following a special exercise and training program, women could avoid lymphedema and enjoy active, full lives. Many of these women had anecdotal stories about the don’ts they had been told after treatment. As the program was followed participants were carefully monitored by a sports medicine physician, a physiotherapist, and a nurse. Dr. McKenzie’s theory was proven correct. No new cases of lymphedema occurred and none of the existing cases became worse.
From a medical study involving one boat of 25 women in 1996, breast cancer dragon boating now reaches around the world, with over 100 teams in 12 countries, and continually growing.