On July 11, a special dragon boat race team will be decked out in blue to raise awareness about an autoimmune disorder called alopecia.
Like all other teams at the 2015 Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival, Team Alopecia will help raise funds for the Northern Cancer Foundation, but the group will also represent local families who have members with alopecia.
The autoimmune disease is characterized by hair loss.
Six-year-old Kiera Konowalchuk was diagnosed with alopecia universalis – which means she eventually lost all her hair, including her eyebrows and lashes – when she was five.
“We noticed last summer her hairline receded in the back,” said her mom Kyla Konowalchuk. “She lost her hair over the course of several months, and by February she had no hair left.”
But Kiera takes it all in stride, and goes to school most days without her wig.
“She is awesome,” Konowalchuk said.
Kiera's friend, seven-year-old Maya Flores, also has the dragon boat team's support. It was Maya's parents who started the team four years ago to raise awareness around alopecia.
“The biggest part for us was the adults that would stare. It wasn't the kids,” said her mother Mandy Flores. “Kids are so accepting and they just don't really care.”
Konowalchuk said people sometimes assume her daughter has cancer and is going through chemotherapy.
But alopecia has no symptoms other than hair loss.
Both Kiera and Maya are healthy and happy children.
Team Alopecia includes two other families who have dealt with the disease.
On race day, a hairstylist from Pandemonium Salon will cut volunteers' ponytails so they can be used to make realistic wigs for children like Kiera and Maya.
Kiera has a synthetic wig, but it can get quite hot and is heavier than one made with human hair. She will go to Toronto soon to choose one made of the real thing.
Participants with other dragon boat teams can also choose to get their heads shaved in support.