The wonderfully mixed bag that is the Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival
by Randy Pascal
On July 16th (2016), Ramsey Lake and Bell Park will play host to the 16th edition of the Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival (SDBF), with funds raised this
summer being donated in support of the Northern Cancer Foundation and P.E.T. Scan Fund, in memory of the late Sam Bruno.
It's no secret that the longevity of the event relies heavily on the multi-year participation of a core of boats, representing folks from all paths of
life in Sudbury. The stories behind these teams are as diverse and unique as are the athletic or non-athletic backgrounds of the hundreds of paddlers
who take to the waters for this summertime tradition.
Less than a year after Mandy and Ozzy Flores were involved with a cancer awareness boat, their then three-year old daughter, Maya, was
diagnosed with "alopecia totalis", a medical autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles.
It didn't take long for the light bulb to flash. "We wanted to raise awareness and to educate the community on what alopecia was, because a lot of
people assumed she had cancer," explained Mandy Flores, chief organizer of "Team Alo" for a fifth straight year.
"We set up a tent on Dragon Boat Day, a hair stylist comes out, and we donate all of the ponytails that are cut to the "Wigs for Kids Foundation",
Flores continued. "Every year, we've been collecting more and more."
In fact, in excess of 80 ponytails for this one-day venture alone were gathered in 2015, with Flores and company hoping to exceed that mark this July.
This is one very worthwhile initiave that is showing few signs of slowing down.
"It's been family and friends, colleagues and co-workers, friends of friends," said Flores. "We started noticing last year that we had to turn people
down. Because we're an awareness boat, a lot of people wanted to paddle with us, which is really exciting."
So Team Alo took the next logical step. The marshalling area of the 2016 SDBF will be graced with the presence of both "Team Alo Totalis" as well as
"Team Alo Universalis", recognizing the attraction that was been garnered with this venture, all while denoting two of the various forms of this medical
condition that exist.
"We do have some competitive blood on our team (fans of the Sudbury Spartans may remember Ozzy Flores donning the jersey of the silver and blue),
but we try and keep it fun, given that we are an awareness boat," stressed Mandy Flores.
The emotion that would galvanize the "Be Gold" team might not have carried quite the same depth, but that hasn't stopped chief organizer Julie
Munro and company from making their fourth straight appearance in the SDBF this summer.
"I started this team, personally, because I wanted to be on a team, but I couldn't find a suitable corporate one," explained the lead paddler. Like most
who look to fill a boat, Munro reached out to people who were close to her, extended family, eventually assembling an all-female cast, though not by
"I couldn't find men to join the team," laughed Munro. "It's been a different team every year, but always just women." She estimates that about five other
team members have been at her side, each and every year.
"Others don't return because they can't make it for other reasons, out of town with their kids, things like that," said Munro. "It's scheduling, really."
With an age range to extends from 20 to 50ish, in the words of the captain, members of "Be Gold" seem to have no issue keeping everything in perspective,
come race day.
"We do get a little competitive - last year, we weren't last," said Munro with a smile. "Being all women, we don't have the manpower that mixed teams
would have. But we're here mostly for a good time, and we don't take ourselves too seriously."
Sounds like great advice for the majority of teams that will be "competing" two weeks from Saturday.