UNIVERSITY PARK -- When they held their first practice at Nathan Benderson Park last December, the Manatee-Sarasota breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing team was so new it didn't have a name. Or a boat.
Now it has both.
The dragon boat team, Survivors In Sync, has received a pink dragon boat, thanks to a donation from the Benderson family, that allows them to practice on their home course. Before that, they had to practice in Hillsborough County on the Tampa Bay team's course.
Survivors In Sync named their new boat "Nate's Hope," in honor of the late patriarch of the Benderson family.
Nathan Benderson Park will host the 2014 IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival Oct. 24-26.
More than 3,000 registrants and 7,000 hotel room nights have already been reserved. And about half of the room reservations are in Manatee County, Kim Bonomo, president/co-chair of the Dragon Boat Festival, said Wednesday.
On Aug. 9, seven of the Florida dragon boat teams and more than 100 breast cancer survivors will converge on Nathan Benderson Park to offer a preview of the October festival.
"We will have a day of exercise, coaching, review of the festival plans, and how to make our guests more comfortable," Bonomo said.
"The boats will be in full dragon boat regalia -- dragon head, dragon tail, drum, and drummer -- and we will be in full festival mode," Bonomo said. "We are really structuring our schedule to do it up p`roperly in October."
The schedule of events actually begins Oct. 20, when 105 teams representing about one dozen countries begin arriving, registering and practicing.
Angela Long, the captain and founder of the Survivors In Sync team, said it was all new to her when she was approached about starting a dragon boat racing team.
"I now see how contagious and how exciting it is," said Long, a breast cancer survivor. Her blog, "Breast Investigators," seeks to take the mystery out of the disease.
"I really think this sport will take off in the Bradenton-Sarasota area," Long said.
Tampa Bay was the first breast cancer dragon boat team in the state when it was formed in 2004 and has served as a big sister to the Manatee-Sarasota club. There are now nine dragon boat teams in the state, with a goal of 10 by the end of 2014.
"Our goal is to bring this sport to more and more women so that they feel whole, and powerful again," Bonomo said. "It's a celebration of survivorship and sisterhood in the Sunshine State."
Connie Keen serves as manager of the Survivors In Sync team and is also chair of the Pink Paddlers Party planned for Lakewood Ranch Main Street from 6:45-10 p.m. Oct. 25.
"It will be a block party similar to their Music on Main held the first Friday of each month," Keen said. "This whole festival is great."
Survivors In Sync practice 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. on alternating Saturdays and Sundays at Benderson Park.
"It's a very rigorous workout. You're using muscles that you're not used to using," Long said.
Anyone interested in joining the team or becoming a team sponsor may visit survivorsinsync.org or email email@example.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.