Big Blue Dragon Boat Race

May 14, 2013

A new traditional event will become part of La Crosse’s annual Riverfest Celebration that combines history, health, and inspiration into one event. On Saturday, July 6, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare will host the region’s first-ever Big Blue Dragon Boat Race at Riverside Park in La Crosse.

Dragon boat racing is believed by scholars to have originated in south-central China more than 2,500 years ago. However, in the last 25 years, dragon boating has been revitalized, and is one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world.

For breast cancer survivors like Terri Pedace, dragon boating has become a popular way for breast cancer survivors to stay active and connect with others. “This type of competition provides the benefit of vigorous exercise and may help prevent or relieve the symptoms of lymphedema, a known side effect resulting from breast surgery or radiation,” said Pedace. Pedace is also one of many event organizers.

Approximately 150 breast cancer teams race in different parts of the world. Closer to home, there are teams in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, including teams from Mayo Clinic Rochester and Arizona that race every year. Throughout the year, dragon boat teams get together to compete in both local and national races.

“The Big Blue Dragon Boat Race is just one way that Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare continues to contribute to the well-being of our region. This event is our first major activity under our new L.I.F.T initiative,” said Joan Mueller, L.I.F.T Initiative Director for Mayo Clinic Health System. “L.I.F.T stands for Living-Impact-Franciscan-Teamwork. We hope through activities and partnerships like this exciting race, we will promote health and address hunger and sustainability needs in communities we serve while promoting life, fitness, and inspiring teamwork.”

A dragon boat is a long, colorful boat, similar to a racing canoe. Each boat is propelled by a crew of 18 paddlers, a drummer, flag catcher and steer person. Races take place in heats on courses ranging from 250 to 1,000 meters.

“The Dragon Boat Race is a fresh and exciting event promoting breast cancer awareness, supporting survivorship, providing a healthy activity outlet for employees and their families, and engaging the community,” said Dr. Kathleen Christian, Breast Cancer Surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System. “Dragon boat teams will include employees as well as breast cancer survivors and supporters, teams of corporate colleagues, and other teams from across the country.”

There will be two divisions: one for anyone to participate in (open racing) and the other for breast cancer survivors and supporters. Event organizers are encouraging local businesses, organizations and individuals to form their own teams. Time trials will take place July 6th at 8 a.m. followed by the opening ceremony at 11 a.m. At 2 p.m., a breast cancer survivor ceremony will take. Deadline to register a team is June 7th.

“Bringing such an esteemed event is just another way to promote our community and attract more visitors to La Crosse,” said Dave Clements, Executive Director of the La Crosse Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You add this type of colorful, high intensity event and it’s bound to be a huge economic boost to our community and will be an added perk for more people to come enjoy Riverfest.”

Proceeds from the Big Blue Dragon Boat Race benefit the Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare’s Center for Breast Care, which provides comprehensive cancer prevention and screening services along with the latest technology and treatment planning to care for the whole person — body, mind and soul.

There will be many opportunities for the community to join in. Besides entering the event yourself, you can watch the excitement and cheer for your favorite team at the event. You can also sponsor a team, or even volunteer to help with the event. Everyone can also follow the progress of teams and the planning by logging on to You can also follow breast cancer survivor Sue Hessel’s adventures as she prepares to take part in the Big Blue Dragon Boat race by logging on to

Press Contact

Rick Thiesse
phone: 608-392-9425