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KC’s Dragon Boat Warriors

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“Hey, ladies! Anyone interested in forming a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team for the Kansas City Dragon Boat Festival this summer? We need ten survivors to form a team!” was the post by Michelle Steger that caught my eye as I scrolled Facebook in January 2019. My interest was piqued and I replied with a simple, “Hmm…this could be interesting!” The post was linked to an article about breast cancer and dragon boat racing, an ancient sport that until that moment I had never known existed. I clicked the link and learned about the history of dragon boat racing and one doctor’s desire to bring back a level of fitness to women who had undergone treatment for breast cancer. This achievement, once thought to be impossible due to surgeries removing breasts and lymph nodes, procedures rearranging muscle and tissue, radiation tightening skin and shortening muscles and chemotherapy leaving previously strong and active women feeling weak and depleted, was proven to be not only possible but beneficial both physically and mentally.

A couple of weeks passed, and another post by Michelle appeared in my Facebook feed, this time inviting members of the KC Young Survivors to meet at Splitlog Coffee in KC to discuss the formation of a dragon boat team for the upcoming KC Dragon Boat Festival. I was unable to attend this meeting, but a handful of women did, and the spirit of the dragon was officially awakened in Kansas City. Over the next few months, life got in the way of my joining the team, but I began seeing posts pop up in my friends’ feeds about learning to paddle while sitting on boxes in a local gym. There was a buzz in the KC survivor community, something positive and empowering interrupting the usual worry and frustration often peppering these boards. In June 2019, I watched from a campsite in northeast Missouri as my friend Shelley fought her way down Brush Creek with a group of women and again, I felt that spark deep inside. This could be something BIG, I just knew it.

Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me and, on a Tuesday in July 2019, I attended my first practice with the KC Pink Warriors Dragon Boat Team. I paddled alongside women who greeted me with wide smiles at the direction of my friend Shelley Shackelford, now the coach of the team. I met the woman behind the Facebook posts, our president and founder, Michelle Steger. I was officially bitten by the dragon.

Since that first post, our team has grown to 40 members. We’ve graduated from boxes to a loaner boat and then, with the help of the community, christened our very own, KC Rise. We’ve stuck together through a pandemic, through both amazing and terrible times. We’ve worked to raise money for people touched by cancer in the KC area. We’ve won some and we’ve lost some, but no matter what we’ve done it all together.

To find out more, visit

Written by: Heather Sebel