Waking the Dragon and Making It Fly: Dragon Boating for Children with Special Needs
Temple, Viviene, Freeman, Allison, deBoer, Carrie, Southward, Julie, Palaestra
Dragon boat racing has been called a modern sport with ancient traditions (Haslam, 2007); and as a sport, it has shown tremendous growth in participation in the United States and internationally (Lee, 2007). Currently, more than 50 million people in 62 countries participate in the modern sport of dragon boat racing (Haslam, 2007: Weikhorst, 2009). Most dragon boat organizations promote both competitive and recreational aspects of the sport. For instance, the mission of the United States Dragon Boat Federation is to " promote the growth and development of dragon boating in the U.S. for fitness, recreation, and team building at all levels of competition" (United States Dragon Boat Federation, n.d.).
Dragon boating has a strong history of participation by breast cancer survivors (Courneya, Mackey, & McKenzie, 2002; Haslam, 2007), and many national dragon boat organizations have shown a commitment to inclusion. As an example, Dragon Boat Canada's policy on equity and access for people with disabilities includes having individuals with and without disabilities paddling in the same boat, as well as establishing racing classes for individuals with disabilities (Dragon Boat Canada, n.d.). Dragon Boat Canada's policy includes a description of many features of the sport facilitating participation by individuals with a variety of conditions and disabilities, including--
* basic paddling action is simple and easy to learn;
* there are a variety of audible, visual, and sensory cues to help paddle in time;
* paddling is from a seated position;
* each paddler is in close reach of up to five other paddlers who can coach and give assistance:
* all steering and control of the boat are done by a sweep:
* steersperson's commands to the crew can be communicated in a variety of ways;
* it is easy to accommodate a variety of levels of capability within one boat:
* racing rules can be modified, subject to considerations of safety and fairness, to allow people with disabilities to compete.
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In addition to features described by Dragon Boat Canada, the boat is relatively stable. Dragon boats are double keeled like a catamaran and, therefore, provide greater stability than a canoe with one keel (Paddle for Pink, n.d.).
Dragon boat racing has formal rules, and races vary in length from 200 to 2000 m. A boat crew is typically 22 people--20 paddlers, plus a drummer and a sweep. During training, however, the drummer is often replaced by a coach who leads the crew and calls out paddling cadence. Paddlers face forward and paddle in a similar manner to canoeing; the sweep is positioned at the back, steering the boat with a long sweep oar (see Figure 1).
The literature does not report participation of children with disabilities in dragon boating. The aim of this article is to describe briefly our program and results of an evaluation undertaken over two summers.
A Program for Children with Disabilities
Our Center is a family-oriented organization, providing multidisciplinary programs and services to children and youths with physical, developmental, and/or emotional/behavioral challenges. Dragon boat paddling was instigated by Center staff in 2005 to provide accessible physical activity opportunities for children with a wide range of abilities, skill levels, strengths, and challenges. Dragon boating was considered accessible for children receiving services from our Center because--
* the boat provides an alternative form of mobility for children with ambulation difficulties;
* many paddlers propel the boat; therefore, the children could contribute to the propulsion as their conditions allowed (e.g., children with muscle weakness or children who became distracted were not disadvantaged);
* having many people in the boat (compared with a canoe or kayak) allows for proximal adult support where necessary;
* complexity of paddling is reduced (compared with canoeing or kayaking), because the children do not have to propel and steer. …