AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - This weekend the 21st Annual Dragon Boat Festival and Races kicked off at Lady Bird Lake. The ancient sport has gained popularity around the world and in Central Texas.
Their paddles slice through the water in perfect rhythm, all 20 of them, guided by a mesmerizing drumbeat and a legendary creature soaring from the bow of their vessel.
"There are a lot of traditions around why and how it started. The stories we are told is that dignitaries raced across the river to save a general," said C.J. Wainwright.
Wainwright has been competing for eight years in dragon boat racing. She's part of a local team, called the Austin Coolers dragon boat racing team.
"It's great it brings everyone together. You have to work as a team or you won't win so it's really more about community spirit," said Wainwright.
Dragon boat racing has grown from its origins in ancient China, and is now an international sport all over the world. The activity has gained popularity over the years, particularly in Central Texas.
"It's that team building aspect of it the comradery between all the team mates and even between teams we have a really good relationship with all the teams in Texas it brings people together," said Sheena Chang.
Chang started dragon boating in college and coaches the Austin Coolers. She said the sport isn't an upper body workout.
"Surprisingly, it's more of a core workout and leg. If you pull with your arms you will tire easily," said Chang.
On Sunday, seven teams gathered at Lady Bird Lake to race.
Teams from Houston, Dallas and Arizona were among the many that went head to head. Even though they were all looking to win, the Dallas United Pink were truly racing for something much bigger than a trophy and bragging rights.
They're a team of cancer survivors. Martha Wolf started dragon boat racing four years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I was looking for an opportunity to exercise my upper movement since we are very limited after our lymph nodes are removed. We're very limited in upper movement," said Wolf.
She says the sport combines strength, teamwork and even a bit of spirituality.
"I got a sport group on the water that didn't talk about cancer didn't pity anybody I just wanted to go out there and be myself again," said Wolf.
Today, Wolf is going strong and attributes much of her healing to the sport along with being out in the water.
"Releasing the dragon releasing myself out there, it's just about being out there with my cancer sisters," said Wolf.