By: Jennifer Hoffman

For the last 18 years people from all over Philadelphia and the surrounding counties have gathered their friends and headed down to the Schuykill River for the annual Philadelphia International Dragon Boat Festival. 

In recent years, a certain group of ladies from Delaware County have taken the festival by storm. 

Meet Hot Mess Express, a team composed of Delco and Chester County Mom’s. 

Several of the team members had friends who had participated in the event previously who encouraged them to start a team of their own. 

The team of all women was organized as a fun little get together and over the last two years has grown exponentially. “It’s a way to bring together a group of friends, have a good time and something fun to do but around it we plan events throughout the year to raise money for the team and HEADstrong” remarked Kathy McCullen, a social worker at the Interboro School District. 

Hot Mess Express has expanded to two teams filling two dragon boats, which equals double the fundraising efforts for their charity of choice which is the HEADstrong Foundation. 

The HEADstrong Foundation is particularly close to one of the team members hearts, Becky McCallister. Becky knows first hand how a cancer diagnosis can flip someone’s life upside down as she is a cancer survivor herself. At 24 years old she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. 

She stumbled upon Michael Colleluori when she was undergoing a stem cell transplant at Penn, Michael was the doctor’s research assistant at the time. The Colleluori family did what they do best and rallied around Becky as she underwent treatment. At HEADstrong’s first gala, she was honored with a financial aid grant and their relationship only grew stronger from there.

Joining the Hot Mess Express was a no brainer for Becky, ”I became involved with Hot Mess Express because a friend said they needed a paddler. I couldn’t resist when she told me it was a HEADstrong team. I’m not a skilled boater or even very athletic, but the atmosphere on race day is just so much fun.”

The Dragon Boat Festival is filled with teams ranging from beginners to expert paddlers and the range of experience on the water is what makes the event something truly special. 

122 teams took to the river, broken down into different divisions and heats. Much to their surprise, Hot Mess Express came in 2nd place in the women’s division this year. “We were all super excited, it was completely unexpected. Last year we came in one of the last places.” Kathy said.

When asked what motivates the team, their response was simple. 

Their daughters. 

The ladies came together as a group of moms, whose daughters are all around the same age. They wanted to do something fun and to come together for a greater cause and rally around HEADstrong.

Hot Mess Express did just that.

“I’m amazingly proud of how much HEADstrong has grown over the nearly 10 years I’ve known them. I’m always ready to pay back the kindness they showed me,” remarked Becky. 

The team raised over $3,000 for HEADstrong and did a complete turn around going from a last place finish the year before, to a second place finish this year. 

“It’s really empowering for our girls to see us as moms doing something for ourselves. A lot of people felt really good about themselves. It was the best feeling coming out of this. ” stated Kathy.  

Hot Mess Express is already looking forward to next year’s festival and hopes to expand to 3 teams and possibly even a mother daughter boat. Something that started out as a fun way to get the moms together has grown into a legacy that the women hope to pass down to their daughters one day. 

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