The Woodstock girl was considered Team Transplant's mascot Saturday as the group of more than 20 organ and tissue recipients, donors and health-care workers paddled to place high in the festival, but also to raise awareness for organ donation.
"It's inspirational," said Ryley's mother, Joanna Mitchell, who worked an awareness booth throughout the day. "Most of these people were on their death bed. They couldn't do anything, maybe not even walk, maybe they were on oxygen.
"Now they are competing in Dragon Boat races."
At just a few months old, Ryley was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart. Her heart was unable to pump blood through her small body. At seven months old, she received a life saving heart transplant at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
Thirty-eight years earlier, Team Transplant founder Donna Fleming received a life-saving kidney transplant, also at Sick Kids in Toronto.
"I can remember when I first got mine done I would hear people say they had theirs for a few years and that gave me hope," she said. "Now I've had mine 38 years. I hope it helps new recipients understand it's all possible."
Fleming started the Dragon Boat team about 14 years ago as a way to get recipients together and bring attention to organ donation.
More than 4,000 Canadians are waiting for an organ transplant, and unfortunately, almost 200 people died last year while waiting.
The Greater Toronto Area team has members that have received kidney, pancreas, liver, bone marrow and even lung transplants.
"We like the camaraderie. We have a common bond as transplant recipients, donors or transplant related health care workers. It allows us to get together and get the word out," Fleming said.
The team generally competes in three festivals a year.
Their booth supplied information about becoming a donor and what's required.
Both Fleming and Joanna Mitchell said just signing a donor card does not mean the person will donate.
"Think about it. When people die suddenly, what is usually the cause? Car accidents. Where do they keep their donor card usually? In their wallet. The chances of finding a wallet at a crash scene is pretty slim," Joanna Mitchell said.
The pair urged people to go to beadonor.ca and register online while making sure their families and loved ones know that they would like to donate if something tragic ever took place.
"Just let people know. Most people want to donate, but they don't let people know and it isn't done," Joanna Mitchell said.
Raising awareness was the name of the game during the 14th annual Woodstock Rotary Dragon Boat Festival. Forty-nine teams signed up to make it the biggest festival in the local event's history.
"Many of these teams do come with causes and we think that's great. What better way to raise awareness than here where there is so many people together for the day?" said Justin Byers, chair of the Dragon Boat festival.
Woodstock Hooters, a crowd favourite, were dressed in their pink lifejackets to raise awareness for breast cancer and were joined with several other groups from all over southwestern Ontario that were doing the same.
The event raised $25,000 for the Woodstock Rotary Club. That money will be used for local and international projects.
"The day has been great. The weather has held out and everyone is having a lot of fun. We couldn't ask for anything more," Byers said.