Karen Tischer was nearly late for last year’s Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival.
Her daughters, Ashley Tischer and Amanda Tischer Buros, remember their mother rushing down to the water right before they pushed off the dock at Copeland Park with The Root Down Yoga Studio’s team.
“She came walking down as fast as she could, waving her arms and yelling, ‘I’m here! I’m here!’” Ashley Tischer said.
It’s one of many happy memories of their mother that the women shared during Karen’s last year before she died of breast cancer March 1.
“She was so proud of us, and we were so proud of ourselves that we were able to do this, and she was able to watch us,” Tischer Buros said.
The sisters honored their mother’s memory by starting their own team, Karen’s Krew, to compete Saturday in this year’s festival, which is organized by Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare to support the Center for Breast Care at Mayo-Franciscan.
“We were so excited for the opportunity to support her,” Tischer said.
They raised $800 and gathered 20 of Karen’s family and friends to join the 49 other teams that participated in the races, held throughout the day in the Black River at Copeland Park.
Tischer said organizing the team in her mother’s memory was fitting, as Karen did everything she could to support others after her first breast cancer diagnosis. Karen was first diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 1996, but beat it with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. The cancer was in remission until last year.
“I don’t think it once occurred to her that she wasn’t going to beat it again,” Tischer Buros said.
Karen signed up for an experimental clinical trial at Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester, hoping the research would shed light on the disease and ease the struggle for those who came after her.
“Anything she could do through her diagnosis to help other women, she did. She felt really strongly about it,” Tischer said.
That was no surprise to her family.
“She devoted her entire life to caring for others,” Tischer said.
Tischer Buros said her mother, who worked as a nurse for Gundersen Health System for 35 years, was a “very passionate, strong woman.”
Karen was an inspiration to both her daughters.
“She was the best mother, friend, everything,” Tischer said. “She’s very missed.”
The races are a great way to remember Karen’s strength and passion, Tischer Buros said.
“We feel kind of like she’s with us in spirit,” she said.
It’s nerve-wracking and exhilarating to be out on the boats, cheering each other on as their team members row in unison to the beat of the drum, Tischer and Tischer Buros said.
“It’s an amazing team-bonding experience,” Tischer Buros said.
Teri Wildt, director of community engagement at Mayo, said watching the teams’ energy and enthusiasm is her favorite part of the annual festival. She likes to see the teams make their own shirts, signs and costumes in preparation for the races.
“It’s just great that they make it their own,” Wildt said.
Events began at 6 p.m. Friday with an opening ceremony, exhibition races, live music and fireworks and then continued at 8 a.m. Saturday morning when racing began in earnest. In addition, the festival included games for all ages, kids’ activities and vendors selling food and dragon boat memorabilia.
The festival raised $50,000 last year to provide free mammogram screenings for women in financial need, and comprehensive care and support for all patients diagnosed with breast cancer. Wildt expects to equal that this year, although final numbers are not yet available.