Dragon boats raise money, hope

Martha White (left) and Beans Kelly (center), both of Pawley’s Island, share an emotional moment at the survivors’ ceremony at the sixth annual Charleston Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday. David Quick/postandcourier.com

One year ago, Janie Borden went to the Charleston Dragon Boat Festival races as a “get out of the house venture” with a good friend and caretaker.

Borden had been through a rough patch, by any standards. After having a stroke in the summer of 2011, she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic melanoma. She then endured numerous biopsies, a second stroke, paralysis, a craniotomy, chemotherapy, radiation and physical therapy.

“I was weak, overweight, out of shape and tired,” recalled Borden, who works for the city of Charleston’s legal department.

What a difference a year makes.

On Saturday, Borden was competing in the sixth annual Charleston Dragon Boat Festival races with a team, City of Charleston Paddlers, that she helped organize, and was the featured speaker at a survivor ceremony held between the first and second heats of the day.

As a survivor, Borden spoke about what Dragon Boat Charleston, a free program to help cancer survivors get active again, meant to her over the past year.

“I was nervous about participating in the program and paddling the first time, but nobody at Dragon Boat Charleston seemed to care that I had some physical limitations. After some instructions, I jumped in the boat and started rowing,” she said.

She added that the program also has helped her enjoy other activities, including hiking, bowling and even CrossFit.

“I swear it is like a really fun adult day care. I have made many new friends and acquaintances that have had similar experiences to mine. Additionally, my physical and mental well-being have been greatly improved.”

Real-life stories such as Borden’s are what make cancer events, such as dragon boat races, so successful, according to Meaghan Labriola, executive director of Dragon Boat Charleston.

“I’m really touched by (Borden), but there is a story in each one of these tents out here today,” Labriola said.

Labriola added that she was amazed by the turnout at the event this year, considering that the weather was a continuation of blustery, cloudy and unseasonably cool weather that has characterized much of the spring in the Lowcountry.

Most Charleston Dragon Boat Festivals resemble a beach at Brittlebank Park, with ample numbers of women in bikinis and muscled men going shirtless.

“They all came out,” said Labriola of the 69 teams that not only committed but attended. “Honesty, I couldn’t believe it. They came out, bundled up and starting drinking by 10 o’clock.”

And those teams not only paddled on a choppy Ashley River, but smashed Dragon Boat Charleston’s goal of raising $100,000. In all, the event raised $140,000. The top team fundraiser was the James Island ViQueens, with more than $15,000, and the top individual was Brook Burroughs of the Folly Beach Wahines, who raised $5,108. The rising second-year law student at USC also was the top individual fundraiser last year.