Many of you may be wondering why those women in the funny looking canoe on Geist have been practicing so hard over the past couple of months. Indeed, the team has been on a mission to get in shape to compete at the 2010 International Dragon Boat Festival in Peterborough, Ontario. The festival occurs every four years and brings together over 2,000 breast cancer survivors from all over the world to compete in a weekend of not just dragon boating, but awareness of the broad reaching impact of breast cancer throughout the world. This year, teams from seven different countries came together to compete.
Work for the Indy SurviveOars began last November when they hosted a fundraiser in order to raise enough money to be able to attend the competition. The Pink Paddle Party was a huge success, and the ladies raised enough money to send a team of 25 individuals to the race. The team began training in earnest in January at the newly built Lawrence North High School pool. The team is very grateful to the school for allowing them to get a head start on their training as they waited for the ice to thaw on the reservoir.
The team arrived in Peterborough through various routes of transportation on Thursday. The city was amazing in both its hospitality and sights. The team’s ambassador, Tamara, invited us to her house Thursday night for dinner. While we all had some trepidation about the invasion of this stranger’s house, the apprehension soon dissipated as we were welcomed with open arms. Her children had made signs for the team which were proudly displayed in the front window of their house. Her husband Rick was a gracious host, getting us whatever we needed. The evening turned into a pleasant visit and a brief walking tour of the locks (Peterborough has the largest lift lock in the world). By the end of the night, we could have sworn we were sitting in the back yard of a friend’s house.
Back at the hotel, the team discovered that we were in the same hotel as the South African team and a couple of the Australian teams. We quickly bonded Friday morning while trying to scramble for breakfast. At one point, the South African team went back and helped with dishes. To emphasize how fortunate the team was to be able to attend, the coach of the team told us that the team had skipped some meals because of the cost of attending the race.
Friday was the first chance to go out on the race course for practice. The race venue was great. There were tents set up with signs for everyone. Our team was fortunate to get a prime spot, just a few tents away from the Australian, British and South African tents. Following practice and meetings, the team got ready for the parade, which was a sight to behold. Over 2,000 women dressed in all sorts of crazy garb marched for 45 minutes in the toasty sun through Peterborough. The streets were heavily lined with local residents. Apparently, more people turned out for this parade than they did for their Santa parade. Our team carried a U.S. flag, a state of Indiana flag and numerous checkered flags. The checkered flags were immediately recognized by the spectators; many apparently were race fans. Several team members gave flags to some of the children lining the street, who were very delighted with the small gift. It was a sight to see the stretch of 75 teams lined down this street. At the end of the parade, we assembled for opening ceremonies in which INSO played a major role. Our own Diana Moreland was chosen to bear the United States flag in the parade of nations, as she was the youngest U.S. survivor in attendance. There was a BBQ and a band following the opening.
Saturday morning, it was down to business. Several teams had not shown up with a steersperson, so our own steersperson, Tammy Roberts, was very popular throughout the weekend. Her supreme skills at steering the 40-foot boat turned out to be in high demand throughout the day, steering for at least 14 races over the entire weekend. The day was a challenge from the weather as it was cool, rainy and windy. Again, no exaggeration, she was one of the best steerspersons out on that course. The lake had a heavy current which proved a challenge both days with lining the boats up and staying in lanes. Our first race was at 10a.m. The team turned in a respectful 2 minutes, 47 seconds for 500m. Times for the day ranged from 2 minutes, 26 seconds to well over 3 minutes.
During our second race, we had a little glitch. As we lined up for the start, we were on the buoy. We had signaled the starter that we were not ready and were drawing right when much to our dismay, the horn went off. I am proud to say the girls responded quickly to the start, but we spent the race trying to make up ground and turned in a 2 minute, 52 second effort. We did protest, but the nature of the weekend meant that protests weren’t really acted on, as we were all there for a bigger cause. The team capped off a tough day of racing by attending a “Gala” Saturday night, which was inspirational. Dr. McKenzie, the founder of dragon boating for breast cancer survivors, spoke about how touched he was to be witness to the festival and how important it is to give back to the community. Overall, the Gala and ensuing dance was fun. There were team members that were table dancing, but what happens at the Gala stays at the Gala.
Sunday we returned to the site to race in our semifinals. Going into Sunday, they ranked the team into groups A, B, and C. We were in the C division, ranked 51st out of 75 teams. We went into the race focused and ready. We raced an excellent race and were just edged out of first by 0.5 seconds. I was sure that we had a 2 minute, 40 second time with the effort, but was surprised that it was 2 minutes, 47 seconds again. After the morning races, two of our paddlers participated in the Sandy Smith memorial race (Rhonda and Kathy). They both had big smiles on their faces, so I think they enjoyed it! Our afternoon race approached. I asked the team to beat 2’47″. Those girls paddled their rears off. We won our race with a blistering 2 minutes, 43 seconds. We ended up with the fastest time in our group. Our time was faster than some of the teams in the B division. I was so proud of the effort everyone gave all weekend and in that last race when we were tired. They dug deep and gave the effort I knew they could. The day was capped with a nice closing ceremony and a well deserved dinner and drinks.
The experience was inspiring. To be in a heated battle one minute and then hugging the same team the next was amazing. To see a woman get into a boat to compete with her oxygen in her fanny pack was just overwhelming. There were all ages, races and stages of disease at that site. It was a sobering reminder of why we were all there and why we are doing this crazy sport. Our mantra throughout the weekend was “what can I do to make the team better?” This quote we will carry with us as we continue to train and compete for future races this year. This quote also applies to what the team can do to make the community better. As the team continues to mature and grow, we will be looking for what we can do for the breast cancer community in Indianapolis.
So as you eat your dinner at Bella Vita or are out on an early evening cruise on the reservoir, give the gals of Indy SurviveOars a shout of encouragement. We appreciate the cheers as it fuels our desire to continue to overcome our disease!