Angels Abreast paddler Diana Bertram and team captain Liz Ritchie show off the team’s new boat. The duo will be paddling in the upcoming Nanaimo Save-On-Foods Dragonboat Festival, July 6-8. CHRIS BUSH/News Bulletin

Dragonboat teams head to the races

Nanaimo Save-On-Foods Dragonboat Festival is today through Sunday, July 6-8

Ladysmith’s Diana Bertram cried all the way home from the hospital when she found out she had breast cancer.

Her husband asked her what’s wrong, and she told him.

“I’m crying away and I said, ‘but now I can at least dragon boat.’ He said, ‘are you kidding me?’ she said, laughing.”But that was the only positive thing I could think of at that time.”

She had paddled before and knew the sport was good for people, so when she finished radiation treatment in 2011 she went looking for a team to join. It didn’t take long for her to get a call from the Angels.

“There is no support group in Nanaimo for breast cancers and so that became my support group,” she said.

Bertram and the Angels Abreast breast cancer survivor team is ready to race in this year’s Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival, July 6-8.

The city can expect to watch 59 teams from B.C. and the Pacific Northwest hustle through the harbour during the summertime event that’s all about camaraderie, competition and breast cancer awareness.

Heiko Behn, festival society chairman, said Nanaimo provides probably the nicest festival in B.C., with the beautiful park, wonderful weather, great people and with it being right on the ocean. And the atmosphere is electric, he said.

“Once you get all those paddlers in here, it’s just excitement, enthusiasm, it’s almost like an Olympics,” said Behn. “It’s a great opportunity to get out and meet people; it’s a great opportunity to enjoy yourself.”

Liz Ritchie, team captain with Angels Abreast, enjoys the survivors’ dinner which kicks off the event. She said it’s a bunch of women dancing and having fun and while they might all be from different teams, that night they are one.

“The next morning we get up and it’s business,” she said. “We are all friends and we might help one another out, but when we’re on the water … we want to win and do our best. It’s very, very exciting.”

Bertram became hooked on dragonboating for the friendships, support and exhilaration.

“After the race you’re like ‘wow,’ you might be soaking wet, and it might be raining and some boats might be run aground or you might be dodging a plane landing, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s good exercise and it’s fresh air and it’s just awesome.”

The festival started in 2003 and is a fundraiser for the Nanaimo Hospital Foundation and Nanaimo Community Hospice Society. This is the 16th season of the festival, which has a ‘sweet 16’ theme. Over the weekend, people can munch on pancakes at the Shriners breakfast, toss back a cool one at the Longwood Brewery beer garden, watch the races and enjoy the entertainment, put on by the festival in partnership with Crimson Coast Dance Society.

For more event details see,

The Angels Abreast team is also recruiting this year and invites breast cancer survivors interested in paddling to attend a practice. For more information call Bertram at 250-245-7005 or Ritchie, 250-667-6539.

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