biff-dragon-paddlesAn inspiring film about strength and survival… and a personal reminder of what matters most in life

Timing has a way of working out doesn’t it? Personally, wendyI’ve been faced with many obstacles lately, trying to figure out what’s best for me, my daughters, and our future. In these trying economic times, we’re all at crossroads in our lives. Recently I’ve felt pain and knew that time would heal the psychological wounds. So I’ve been trucking on, day to day, with somewhat of a “woe is me” attitude, not fully appreciating all the positives in my life. Needless to say, the last few weeks, well years, have been a bit depressing.


Last week, I got a phone call from my sister-like cousin. I answered her call, and she was crying. The words that subsequently came out of her mouth were shocking. Her best friend, and mine, was just diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer. She’s a 35- year-old pharmacist with FOUR children! And also the sweetest wife and loyal friend a woman could possibly be! She is about to endure months, maybe years of treatment.

I was speechless. I kept thinking, “Of anyone on this planet, Ashley does not deserve this!” Then I immediately got up out of the chair and looked at my little girls’ photo in my office and wept. There is nothing in my life that could possibly be more important than seeing those two smiles every day. And now, one of my dearest friends is facing that possibility. Everything stopped, at least for a day, and I picked the girls up from school early just to say, “I love you.”

Then a few days later, I got a call from my mother. One of her dearest friends, who’s been suffering from Colon Cancer for five years, was now in need of Hospice care. She passed away a few days later.

Suddenly, my life was just fine. How could I be so selfish to think my world was crumbling? I am healthy. My daughters are healthy. For goodness sake, my mom, who is a breast cancer survivor of nine years now, is healthy.

On the same day I got the news of my mom’s friend’s passing, I got my assignment for the next issue of Lowcountry Weekly. I was forwarded contact information for Liz Oakley, Director of Awaken the Dragon, a feature film in this year’s Beaufort International Film Festival. So I emailed her, and she sent a clip of the film.biff-dragon-poster

I sat in City Java & News, watched the trailer, and publicly wept… again. But these tears weren’t falling with emotions of sadness. They were energetic, happy tears filled with optimism and strength. This is a movie for all of us to see, whether we’ve been diagnosed or not. We all need a reason to wake up, get energized about life and find our inner peace.

With Awaken The Dragon, Oakley, an award-winning writer/producer living in Charleston, challenges traditional thinking about illness and recovery.

The film followed a group of cancer survivors through their journey with an ancient Chinese sport that empowered them to compete as a team, challenged their own ideas of what it means to be “sick” and how live more fully than they ever thought possible. Moving beyond survival, the crew learned to thrive in their chosen moments, transforming into a single force of power and beauty.

Oakley explains, “We shouldn’t have to hear the words “you have cancer” to start living our best lives. I hope, through this film, I can share at least some small part of what I have learned. I hope it will inspire others to stir their own slumbering powers.

biff-dragon-liz-oakleyAlready Awaken the Dragon has done just that for me. I feel like I’ve been sleeping for years. After I saw the clip, I realized my potential and simultaneously understood that any day could be my last. This is my one life, and it’s time to live it!

Think about that someone you know who’s been diagnosed. Or is that person you? How have you embraced the news? Is it time to awaken your dragon? This film will encourage positive momentum, whether you’re struggling with the disease or not.

Awaken the Dragon is a film that will stir emotions, for the better. Its message is moving, and the topic hits so close to home for many of us. We walk tracks to raise awareness. We donate money for research. We pray for a cure, which will be found one day. But if we don’t have Cancer, it’s often difficult to understand its physical and psychological effects.

This film illustrates individual struggles and the encouraging result of teamwork. The “Just do it” attitude is prevalent, and the absence of self-pity is remarkable. Don’t we all need a reminder of that every now and again? If yes is your answer, then mark your calendar for Saturday, February 18 at 1:40pm at USCB’s Center for the Arts for the screening of Awaken the Dragon at the 2012 Beaufort International Film Festival.

Most of Awaken the Dragon was filmed in neighboring Charleston, the hub of the Lowcountry. Its beautiful photography showcases the picturesque rivers and iconic landmarks. But even better, the film features real people, just like you and me, from our sister city. And many of these courageous warriors will be in Beaufort for the screening. What an opportunity to meet real heroes and thank them and Oakley for giving us such a film of inspiration.

Awaken the Dragon is a must-see at this year’s festival. I know I’m anxious to see it, with me, myself and I. It’s the spark I need to light my fire. How high is your flame burning these days?



About Awaken the Dragon:


As the sun rises over the Ashley River, the voice of a coxswain travels on water broken by the blades of twenty paddles. The paddlers sit side by side, striking in unison, propelling the sleek 48-foot vessel toward a destination that resides, not on a map, but within each soul. Awaken the Dragon, a new film by Liz Oakley, explores how an ancient Chinese sport is empowering cancer survivors to redefine what it means to be “sick” and the role a cancer diagnosis can play. Their journey to reclaim life has led to revelations they never dreamed of and to a life they never thought possible. The changes are so striking they inspire researchers and a National Cancer Institute study, the results could hold hope for the future of all survivors.

Against the backdrop of the life of a fledgling dragon boat team, the film profiles individual stories of strength, courage and survival. Awaken the Dragon follows the members of biff-dragon-closeupDragon Boat Charleston through three years of competition, beginning with an international competition in Victoria, British Columbia and culminating at the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Festival in 2007. While engaged in the unfolding fates of the characters and the team, viewers will be drawn into the sport’s feast for the senses — brilliant colors, pounding drums, splashing water. They will witness the transformation of twenty solitary paddlers into a single force of power and beauty. Awaken the Dragon is a story beyond survival. . . a story of reclaiming life. . . a story of awakening the dragon within.

Dragon boating, which originated in 4th Century B.C. China, has been recognized as the fastest growing sport in the world. Its status in Asia is legendary and it has a devout following in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. But until recently, it was virtually unheard of in the Southeast and a complete novelty for the historic city of Charleston, SC.

Yet six years ago, dragon boating made its way to the waterways of the South Carolina Lowcountry and into the hearts of an unsuspecting and unlikely crew. Many who joined Dragon Boat Charleston had never paddled so much as a canoe, let alone a dragon boabiff-dragon-sunsett. Nevertheless, they began paddling a boat of ancient Chinese heritage down a river bordered by pre-Revolutionary War homes and plantation rice fields.

A scant six months later the team found themselves traveling across North America to compete in an international competition against well seasoned and decorated competitors. They were, to put it simply, the Bad News Bears of the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival.


Filmmaker Oakley was drawn to the courage and strength of these cancer survivors and began to follow them in 2004 as they prepared to journey to Victoria. “The first time I observed practice, they made me get into the boat and paddle,” she says. “It was incredible — men and women from all walks of life, with all types of cancer, paddling together and giving strength to each other.   I thought, ‘People have to know about this. We can all learn from this.’”


Awaken the Dragon is filled with a remarkable group of survivors. There’s Michelle, 38 years old and a successful attorney, recovering from a brain tumor. Real estate appraiser Ira, 70 years old, used to play a bit of golf and tennis before having a portion of his stomach removed. Barbie, 25 and newly married, lost an eye to cancer at the age of two and has no memory of life any other way. At 69, Cay has been battling stage IV ovarian cancer for three years and continues to paddle and compete through her treatment. Margaret is 37, a wife, mother and career woman recovering from a mastectomy. Mark is 45 and four years into his battle against stage IV colon cancer. He tells us there are no statistics for life beyond five years. These amazing people teach us what it truly means to live life — even if it’s on a deadline.


Little did Oakley know when she started that she and her crew would continue to follow the team — on camera and off — through eight festival competitions, endless early morning practices, and several lifetimes worth of laughter and tears. Some of the team didn’t make it to the finish line, but their incredible strength and spirit will live on through the legacy of Awaken the Dragon.


Awaken The Dragon will screen on Saturday, February 18 at 1:40pm at USCB’s Center for the Arts as part of the 2012 Beaufort International Film Festival.


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