Dragon Boat Festival - In the News

Louise Graff is not crazy.

Graff might be a glutton for punishment, but she is as mentally stable as any person who wants to row across the Atlantic Ocean, according to her close friend Sterling Hannah.

Thirty-five days ago, Graff, 47, and 15 other crew members boarded Big Blue, a 40-foot vessel, in an attempt to break the world record for an Atlantic Ocean crossing by oar.

"Louise is one of the most amazing people I know," said Hannah, who is an avid dragon boat rower. "She's an adventurer in every sense of the word. She has done some amazing things in her life and this is just another chapter."

According to Hannah, Graff has hiked the Inca trail in Peru and spent 80 days canoeing and hiking in the Yukon territory near Alaska.

"She likes to push her body to the limit," Hannah said.

Big Blue set out from Tarfaya, Morocco, on Jan. 15 for the 3,168-mile journey to Port St. Charles, Barbados. The crew hoped to break the world record of 35 days and 6 hours, but high winds off the coast of Africa in the first week of the excursion ended any chances of establishing a new mark.

"They ran into some bad weather and the winds actually blew them back more than 20 miles one day," Hannah said. "They had to ride out the storms, but now they're making excellent time."

The 16-member crew has rowed continuously in two-hour shifts for the past five weeks without any outside assistance. Graff, who lives in Charleston, had not met the members of the Big Blue crew until a month before they left Morocco.

"They are self-contained," Hannah said. "They don't have any support ships. What they eat is what they brought with them or can catch in the ocean. They don't get much sleep. They share their sleeping space with another crew member, and there's not much space."

The crew is averaging more than 80 miles a day.

"Louise lost about 15 pounds during the first week and will probably lose about 30 to 40 pounds for the entire trip," Hannah said. "It's not the diet I would recommend for anyone."

This is the second time Graff has tried to row her way across the Atlantic Ocean. A decade ago, she tried a tandem crossing from the Canary Islands to North Carolina, but her partner got sick during the voyage.

"They drank some local water and had to abort," Hannah said.

Big Blue, which is about 950 miles from Barbados, is expected to reach Port St. Charles approximately March 1.

You can track Graff's progress at bigbluerow.com.

Congratulations to the Dragon Boat Charleston team for being chosen to be featured in the aha moment TV campaign!On behalf of Mutual of Omaha, we are extremely excited for the 2011 campaign to launch and for Dragon Boat Charleston's aha moment to begin airing. The list below details the dates, times, and shows during which the aha moment is scheduled to air. Unfortunately, we are not able to tell you specifically during which commercial break within the shows it will appear.  These dates and times are all subject to last minute changes and cancellations, so make sure you check your local listings.  

Friday, February 25th: 10pm-11pm Blue Bloods (CBS)
Friday, March 11th: 10pm-11pm 20/20 (ABC)
Sunday, March 20th: 8pm-9pm Amazing Race (CBS)
Monday, April 18th: 10pm-11pm Chase (NBC)
Sunday, May 8th: 8pm-9pm Amazing Race (CBS)
Sunday, July 3rd: 7pm-8pm 60 Minutes (CBS)


Dragon Boat Charleston celebrates beating back cancer, one stroke at a time

WRITTEN BY Harriet McLeod

 Physically, racing has pushed me to my limits, to places I never thought Id go,  says Boo Collins, who is seated under the gazebo at Bristol Marina with best friend and fellow Dragon Boat paddler Patty Byrne. Collins has been cancer-free for 10 years, Byrne for almost five. And this month, as they raise money and awareness for breast cancer, the fierce members of Dragon Boat Charlestons Breast Cancer Survivor Team, who range in age from their mid-30s to their mid-70s, can wear gold over their usual pink shirts and pearls. Just a few months ago, the teams 20 paddlers brought home three gold medals in the 250-, 500- and the 1,000-meter races from the U.S. National Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 Dragon Boat Charleston made such an impression up at nationals,  says Byrne.  We even surprised ourselves.  The group was proud to have beaten veteran team Pink Steel of Pittsburgh, who had a Sports Illustrated writer and photographer following them during the July event.  After the second day, they didnt know what to do, because we kept smokin em,  she laughs.

Dragon Boat Charlestons teams which now comprise some 100 members and include an all-cancer survivor team and a community team called Surge compete at about five festivals per year in the U.S. and Canada, even hosting Charlestons annual festival in May. And the Grand Master team (paddlers over age 50) has won a berth at the next world championship races, to be held in Hong Kong in 2012.

The Breast Cancer Survivor Teams prep for the national championships included three months out on the not-necessarily-placid Ashley River with Canadian trainer Pat Barker.  We were out at 5:30 in the morning on the river; we were out at 5:30 at night paddling; and then we were cross-training at MUSC on machines. It was exhausting,  Collins explains.

But the survivors of Dragon Boat Charleston coach, embrace, and mentor each other.  Racing makes me want to exercise outside of paddling, to be stronger,  explains Collins.  Nobody whines. Everybody knows why were here.  So these teammates keep pushing. They do yoga and belly dancing together. Theyve started a bowling league. And, of course, they paddle.

 We realize how lucky we are,  adds Byrne.  Its joyous,  Collins says.  You feel life again.  That sense of renewal is recognized during a survivors ceremony at every race. For these athletes, paddling is a way to celebrate beating back cancer, one stroke at a time.

Anybody is welcome to paddle with Dragon Boat Charleston on Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m. at Bristol Marina. For more information on the team, click here.

The Cancer Survivor Teams video has been named one of 25 finalists in Mutual of Omahas  aha moments  advertising campaign. To cast your vote for their video in the TV commercial contest, click here.

To watch the trailer of a documentary about Dragon Boat Charleston, click here.