Dragon boat competitor prepares for race day

Dragon boat competitor prepares for...

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - The Big Blue Dragon Boat festival celebrating breast cancer patients and survivors has become a La Crosse area tradition. Now in its fifth year, festivities kick off this weekend.

Debbie Koenig has been paddling in the dragon boat races since they first began in La Crosse five years ago.

She said plenty of hard work goes into preparing for the races.

“It’s so worth it.” she said. "We want to win of course.”

Koenig and her team, the Mississippi Sisters, have been training hard for this year's Big Blue Dragon Boat races, both in and out of the boat.

"We are using our core muscles, our back muscles and our legs,” she said. “It really takes a lot of work to be in sync."

Koenig's team is facing plenty of competition, with more than 40 teams made up of about 20 paddlers.

Every woman in her group is a breast cancer survivor, including Koenig.

"We're all in the same boat,” she said.

She was diagnosed 23 years ago.

"I did not believe it,” Koenig said. “It was like, 'What are you saying?'"

Now cancer free, she's proud to be among the ranks of other women who have traveled the same journey.

"I just see them as brave, brave souls, and it's just great to be courageous with them,” she said. “We just come together to help each other and be together for each other."

Koenig says the races hold special meaning for those in the area.

"I think they come down and see how many people there are that have survived breast cancer,” she said. “There's hope."

Her message to those facing cancer now is to keep moving forward.

"Stay the course. It's going to get better,” Koenig said. “You have lots of support."

That support is hard to miss come race day.

"It is very emotional,” Koenig said. “I just have a big heart for them and I just love all these women."

Koenig is more than ready to hit the water.

"Raring to go, let's go," she said.

Koenig is planning to paddle in the International Dragon Boat races in Italy next summer, where thousands of breast cancer survivors from across the world will gather.

Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare hosts the event, with opening ceremonies starting Friday night at 6 p.m., followed by youth races.

Adult races start 8 a.m. Saturday.

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