Manitobans to give cancer a paddling at Lake Shirley

06 June 2013

Winnipeg, Manitoba -

For Kelly Ritchie’s family, keeping fit and having fun together has always been important.  Twenty years before he even picked up a paddle though, Kelly had one heck of a year that threatened throw everything off course.

It was 1984 when Kelly started college, was engaged to his wife-to-be, and had his future ahead of him in plain sight.  It all changed that year, when he heard the words nobody wants to hear – “You have cancer.”

This weekend, Ritchie will join nearly a thousand paddlers from across Manitoba to race dragon boats on Lake Shirley in Winnipeg at the Canadian Cancer Society River City Dragon Boat Festival.  The festival is brought to Manitobans by the Society along with the Manitoba Paddling Association and the Winnipeg Rowing Club.

“The big thing with dragon boating is the camaraderie and accomplishment of working together and supporting one another,” says Kelly.  “It doesn’t matter who you are - if you get in a boat and try and go at it alone, just as in life, you won’t achieve anything.”

Ritchie knows that if it wasn’t for the support he received in his personal life, he may not be here today.  Two months into collage he had found a lump in his neck, about the size of a quarter.  From October to January it grew to the size of a large grapefruit.  Ritchie explains the only way to swallow was to turn his head all the way to the right and tilt his head forward.

“It was real tough to feel sorry for myself though,” says Kelly, “Because in order to get to cancer treatment facilities you had to walk through the Children’s Hospital chemotherapy unit.  So every day you get reminded how little life experiences those children have had and how bravely they deal with the adversity of it all.”

While getting treated for his cancer, Ritchie was devastated to learn that he had a second cancer, this time in the muscle tissue of his back.  It wasn’t easy but Ritchie kept a level head and always fought back by remaining calm and continuing to inform himself and make the best decisions he could.

Ritchie says that he owes his recovery to the funds raised for research, diagnosis and treatment through organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society. 

For 75 year now, Canadians have trusted the Canadian Cancer Society to lead the fight against ALL cancers.  In that time, they have funded over $1.2 billion in research, and lives are being saved as a result. In the 1930’s only about 25% survived a cancer diagnosis.  Today, survival rates are at 63%.

The River City Dragon Boat Festival raises funds needed in order to continue making progress in the cancer fight.  It is a great way for companies, cancer survivors, their friends and family, and others affected by cancer to team build, have some fun and challenge themselves. Several teams are made up almost exclusively of cancer survivors.

Ritchie says that Dragon Boating has not only been a source of great enjoyment for him, but - in a pleasant twist of fate – actually helped him with his cancer, 20 years after the fact.  Kelly had severe scar tissue and because of it was developing osteoarthritis.  He had tried a number of measures to counter this, but it was a surprise when he discovered that the rotation motion of paddling allowed him to recover some of the range of motion he had lost because of the scar tissue.

People deal with cancer in different ways, and Kelly pulls no punches when he explains that for him, cancer is just one experience of many life experiences, and does not define him.  “I’m not the type of person who looks at this and says I have to live each day to my fullest - because that’s the attitude you should have in the first place, cancer or no cancer.  But having gone through it myself I can better appreciate what others have to go through sometimes.”


Originating in China as folk ritual over 2,000 years ago, dragon boat racing today consists of boats propelled by 22 paddlers, kept on a 500 meter course by a steersperson, and kept in sync by a drummer. It decades past it has become increasingly popular all over the world.

The festival kicks off Friday with a series of sprints – a 200 metre full out dash to the finish line that creates a lot of splashing and churn as paddlers dig deep into the water to get the large boats up to speed. Tomorrow, teams begin competing in more traditional 500 metre races that run throughout the day.

It is a family oriented weekend with something for everyone from young kids to adults. “This is a weekend devoted to fun, team building and fighting cancer,” Cancer Society spokesperson Dave McKnight said. “And it truly does make a difference, enabling the Cancer Society to help Manitobans battling this disease.  McKnight added that the event is open to the public and includes free entertainment and activities throughout the day.

The moving Flower of HOPE ceremony, when participants will throw flowers into the river to pay honour to loved ones who are battling cancer or have lost their life to the disease is at 2:30pm. The festival will be capped with a championship race that starts at 5:30 on Saturday.

Media are invited to attend the Flower Ceremony (2:30pm) on Saturday, June 8 at Lake Shirley Waterski Park at 365 Murdock Road in South Transcona.  Kelly Ritchie and a Cancer Society spokesperson will be available for interviews.  Final races start at 5:30pm

The festival grounds will include free entertainment, food vendors, a beer tent, and merchandise throughout the day.  The event runs Friday 6:00-9:00pm, Saturday 10:30am-9:30pm.

About the Canadian Cancer Society

For 75 years the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website at or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

Jason Permanand

Communications Manager

Canadian Cancer Society


Phone: 204-990-4310