14_Sheila-Tynan_ALS_Iced-300x202When the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral in the summer of 2014, Sheila Tynan, co-manager of the Richmond crew of Abreast in a Boat wanted to bring awareness to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and raise money for the research of this disease. She wanted to give the disease a human face, and she conscripted her breast cancer survivor team to action! She had them organize Richmond’s biggest ever Ice Bucket challenge to be held at Garry Point Park in Steveston. Over 150 people were there to see Sheila start the ball rolling by being dunked herself. Tamara Taggart was there with cameras from Global and CBC TV stations to record the moment. The AIAB team were all involved in volunteering for various duties, from filling buckets to serving hamburgers. It was a very fun event with a very serious purpose.

14_ALS_Bucket-300x180Sheila was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2011. She was a fit, healthy person after delivering mail for Canada Post in the Lower Mainland for 30 years when she noticed a twitch in her hand. She went to a doctor, who sent her to a neurologist. “I was diagnosed very quickly unlike many people I had heard about ALS, but not in great detail. But I certainly do now,” said Sheila.

She was given a de facto death sentence with the ALS diagnosis. The disease rapidly deteriorates a person’s neuromuscular system. Senses become impaired, muscles degenerate and eventually paralysis sets in. There is no effective treatment or cure to date. Most people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis.

Sheila and her Abreast in a Boat team raised over $4000 for ALS BC at their Ice Bucket Challenge.

Neoma Quintin, of the Abreast In A Boat, FORT-itude crew spoke to a group of volunteers for the Canadian Cancer Society in Surrey.  Neoma spoke about her experience getting a breast cancer diagnosis at such a very young age, and how the treatment and issues differ for younger woman.

14_Neoma_Quinton-150x150She spoke of the hope and strength that Abreast In A Boat brought her and how dragon boat racing has become her passion.  She is not only more fit but also lost over 50lbs. since joining. Neoma said “Abreast In A Boat helped her to trust her body again, and how it definitely changed her both physically and mentally”.

Lisa Webb, from the Abreast In A Boat, FORT-itude crew gave a compelling talk and survivor speech to a group of students involved in the KMPG recruitment day.  (KPMG has offices in 33 locations across the country.  They provide crucial services to many public and private business, not-for profit and public sector organizations in Canada).  The students were going out in groups around Vancouver doing an event similar to the Amazing Race.  They decided that all the proceeds from the day’s event would go to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

14_Webb_Lisa-150x141KMPG wanted to have a breast cancer survivor share their story to help the students make a connection to the cause that they would be promoting during the event.

Lisa shared her very heartfelt story about her breast cancer experience. She also talked about what paddling with Abreast In A Boat means to her, the important role it has played in her life.  A role that each and every member of AIAB can relate to.

Thank you Lisa for sharing your story!

Elaine Canning of the Delta Hospital Auxiliary invited AIAB to join them May 10, 2012 to celebrate the arrival of their new digital mammography equipment, which was purchased thanks to the hard work of the Auxiliary members (they raised over $700,000.00). Sixteen of our members were fortunate to be there to share in this celebration. President Leslie Lewis said a few words about AIAB and her personal experience with breast cancer. The Southpointe Academy choir from Tsawwassen performed a few numbers and refreshments were served.

September 30, 2012

We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day for Abreast In A Boat’s 16th year of participating in the CBCF Run for the Cure. Our team of 19 registered members, along with many other supporters made quite a statement in our pink dragon boat shirts. Not only did we take the award for the top Women’s Team raising almost $10,000; more importantly, we proved once again that women who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer can go on to lead active lives.

This year marked the first ever Survivors Parade, where we were led in to the staging area by a group of bagpipers. It really highlighted for me, as we walked in and looked at the supporter’s faces, how this disease still touches so many – family, friends, co-workers. As we reached the stage and had a moment of silence for those who have lost their battle, my emotions got the better of me. There was an amazing feeling of love, courage, and support from the entire group of both survivors and their loved ones. It really was a beautiful moment and one I won’t soon forget.

12-Run-for-the-Cure-150x150 12-Run-for-the-Cure-2-150x150

I was thrilled to learn later that our very own Original, Esther Matsubuchi, won a beautiful Pandora bracelet from the draw being held in the Survivors Tent. Way to go, Esther! I also learned that Deas Diva, Vivian Omori, was one of the top 100 fundraisers in the BC/Yukon area. Vivian has managed to fundraise over $2,000 in each of the past five years, a total of over $10,000! Amazing and inspiring. Thank you, Viv!

When I first arrived I spied a young woman in the parking lot, who was sporting the pink survivor shirt, and a beautiful bald head. With a large group of family with her, many of them bald too, she could have been me nine years ago. As they walked by, I didn’t even think, I just walked up to her and told her that I thought she was brave and beautiful.

She said that if her son and husband could shave their heads for her, she too could walk with a bald head. We talked for a minute, about being survivors and how long it had been for me. She asked about my shirt. Sometimes that’s all it takes, and months or even years later, the women we meet will remember and be ready to take the next step in their breast cancer journey. That’s why it is still so important for me to be involved in events like the Run for the Cure.

There were many other opportunities to reach out to breast cancer survivors at the Run for the Cure. I know that many of us handed out pamphlets and answered questions regarding our experiences with dragon boating. It was such a positive experience and I am happy that AIAB was once again able to be a part of the Run for the Cure and for supporting not only breast cancer research, but the many programs that the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation runs or gives grants to, including the support of dragon boat teams such as AIAB. Thank you to everyone who fundraised, who made donations, and who came out to walk/run with us.

Marcia Rempel, Team Captain

On June 3, 2012, I found myself just outside London, standing knee deep in the Thames. Around me, an assortment of man-powered vessels were organizing themselves on the water, getting ready to be part of the Queen’s Flotilla. This flotilla was to be a perfectly choreographed parade of a thousand boats making there way down the Thames in celebration of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. It was a sight to see, history in the making, and I was a part of it.

What made the day even more amazing for me was the realization that I was part of this celebration because I had had breast cancer. I was there with Abreast From the West, a dragon boat team made up of breast cancer survivors from the Lower Mainland who ranged in age from 44 to 70. We were not your typical athletes but we were strong women who knew that if we could beat breast cancer then we could paddle 26 kilometers down the Thames.

P1100040-150x150 photo-150x150 photo-copy-e1352226378149-112x150

October 2005 – I had just turned 38 when I received the news that I had breast cancer. It was a long year of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation – but an even longer process of recovery. During this time of recovery, I was directed towards a group of breast cancer survivors who dragon boat on a team called Abreast in a Boat. These women paddle to raise breast cancer awareness; to show women that they can still have full and active lives after a breast cancer diagnosis; but also to prove to themselves that they are as strong as they push themselves to be.

When I started paddling with Abreast in a Boat in the spring of 2007, I was terrified. No one would have ever referred to me as an athlete, I had avoided team sports as much as I could my whole life, and, to be honest, I was afraid of falling out of the boat. I was placed in a novice crew. None of us had done this before and we were all learning together. Learning how to paddle is a process but with wonderful coaching, my crew and I began to get the hang of it. As the weeks went by, I grew stronger and more sure of what I was doing. But I also found myself as part of a unique sisterhood. These women knew what I had been through, knew how I felt.

I paddled in the spring of 2008 and again in 2009 but then life got in the way and I missed the next two seasons. My focus turned to my family and raising my three children.

In February, when I heard about the boat going to London, I jumped on the chance to be a part of it. What an opportunity I was being offered and all because I had had breast cancer. I also signed up again with Abreast in a Boat. Coming back to paddling, I quickly remembered how much I loved it and how much I had missed the support of the women I paddled with.

Because of dragon boating, I am stronger and healthier than I have ever been. My circle of friends grows every year as I paddle with different women. I am amazed by the strength of the women around me – a teammate who had to battle breast cancer in her early thirties and another who decided to start paddling at 80.

When I look at these women, I see my future and I see many years of paddling ahead of me.

If you know someone who has had breast cancer, mention my story to them. Encourage them to look us up and maybe even give it a try. They aren’t too young or too old. Breast cancer isn’t picky when it comes to age and neither are we.

“In the boat we…paddle together…support each other…learn from one another…enjoy competition…overcome fear…encourage others…make true friends…take pride in our accomplishments…break the silence of cancer…”  (Abreast in a Boat website)

“When you push off from the dock…we’re all in the same boat. This isn’t about cancer anymore. It’s about exercise and health and the rest of your life. When we push off we’re paddling away from breast cancer.” (Dr. Don McKenzie, Founder, Abreast in a Boat)


Three Abreast In A Boat, In Their Own Words

By John Endo Greenaway, Printed in the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association – March 2011 Bulletin


Esther Matsubuchi, Patricia Tanaka and Vivian Omori

Esther, you were a member of the first team in 1996, which was an experiment, really. I’m sure you had no idea that it would grow into what it has today. Tell me about the experience.

Esther Matsubuchi: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989, the rate of breast cancer in women was 1 in 9. I felt strong and hoped that I would save nine women from getting this disease. For me, breast cancer had been synonymous with lymphodema. A friend’s mother down the street had it and it was a real handicap: all her clothes had to be remade to fit her arm. I’ve always been an avid gardener, but when diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I had to stop because even raking was too risky a motion for a breast cancer survivor. Gardening could also involve thorn pricks from roses, which could lead to infection, which could lead to lymphodema. I was so happy that a fuchsia rose was developed by Brad of Select Roses of Langley and named in honour of AIAB in 2009:
“Fortitude Rose.” I immediately bought one to plant front and centre in my garden.

The first team was an experiment to see if repetitive upper body exercising would lead to lymphodema. Repetitive motions were discouraged in those days: even carrying a shoulder bag on the affected side was taboo. I had nothing to lose and had a good feeling about joining the 1996 dragon boat experiment. I had envied others who paddled and at last one of my dreams would come true. At least after this experiment, the newly-diagnosed women wouldn’t even have to think about any further physical limitations, as we did before 1996.

At our first meeting, we were in awed disbelief as Dr. McKenzie showed a video demonstrating dragon boating. Later, we were told it was in slow-motion. During my first dragon boat race, I thought I was going to die. It was a 650 m race and we had never practised a race that long before. I kept paddling, but in my mind, it was going to be my last race. Of course, since then, I’ve changed my mind.

Patricia and Vivian, can you talk a little about the experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer – the thoughts and feelings you went through.

Patricia Tanaka: Initially there is shock, then numbness and suddenly huge decisions to make in a very short time. You try to understand all the technical medical implications about stage of the disease, percentages of survival, cure rates, courses of treatment while the refrain of “Cancer, I have Cancer” runs in your head. And you think about how your spouse and your family will feel – how terrible it will be for them to hear the diagnosis. And how will you tell your friends and colleagues?

Vivian Omori: It wasn’t an absolute shock since my younger sister was diagnosed five months prior – but still unexpected. The realization that living to an old age (my mother is 92) was likely not in my future was like getting smacked in the face. I was just determined to get through the treatments. I told the oncologist that if I had to get cancer, breast cancer was the one to get because there was so much research and money poured into treatments and finding a cure.

Abreast In A Boat is really about much more than paddling, isn’t it?

PT: It has meant meeting and becoming friends with people who expand your horizons and experiences. It has meant becoming competitive in a sport when you previously never felt the need to be part of an athletic group. It has also provided me with the opportunity to work with this amazing group of women in our race against breast cancer.

What is your favourite dragon boat memory?

PT: There are so many great memories – probably one of the best was winning a bronze medal in my first regatta – the huge Vancouver Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) International Dragon Boat Festival back in 1999.

VO: My first year, my son and daughter came to watch the Breast Cancer race at the Women’s Regatta. It was about five months after my treatments were completed. My crew didn’t win but the kids were proud of me. I think it helped to show them that I wasn’t a fragile patient anymore.

Where is your favourite place to paddle?

PT: While all of the five venues (Barnet Marine Park, Deas Slough, False Creek, Fort Langley and Richmond) are wonderful places to paddle, my favourite is Barnet Marine Park on Burrard Inlet. There are eagles, seals, ducks, and herons that share the water with you as well as the beauty of the Inlet.

VO: The Deas Slough. It’s a calm and beautiful venue with herons, eagles and seals. It also has a pub close by.

EM: My favourite place to paddle is False Creek. The water is usually ideal, and Granville Island is a great place to be after practices. They even give us free parking on our practice days. Abreast In A Boat is very welcomed there.

It looks like a pretty safe sport, but like any water sport there must be an element of danger. Have you had any close calls over the years?

PT: There are the occasional collisions of boats during races as it is relatively easy to veer off course in races or rough water. However no one I know has ever been injured even when knocked overboard.

A few years ago paddling in Burrard Inlet our boat was swamped by a speeding tugboat’s wake. The waves came over our bow and knocked the drummer off her perch and the front two paddlers were pushed back off their seats. While we continued to paddle and bail the boat sank and we ended up floating around the boat which slowly overturned. There is a reason why we all wear life vests while on the boats even on the calmest sunniest days. One paddler was able to call for help with her cell phone while floating on her back. We nicknamed her “Otter”. It took a while to be rescued so we were a bit concerned for some of our crewmates who were not quite as robust.

EM: Dragon boating in Vancouver is safe, but in New Zealand, the boats are constructed differently, and tip very easily. In Wellington, at the international regatta, our boat capsized. When I saw the newspaper pictures of us in the water, I laughed as I noticed my AIAB cap was still on. The water was really choppy, and the winds were very strong. I heard the loudspeakers say “beware of sharks” and the commentator pointed them out!

How do you welcome new members?

PT: We welcome novices at a special introductory meeting and they are also invited to paddle with some experienced members to get a feel for the boat and teamwork. Novices are also given special recognition at AIAB events and post a diary of their season on the website. Novices often have “buddies” who they can talk to at any time about paddling and their cancer experience.

EM: I’m entering my 16th year and I have been instrumental in finding new members since I joined AIAB. When I hear about a new cancer person I tell them about our special boat. I even keep in touch with a woman who was in depression, but who came out of it after associating with our group.
I get a strong feeling that much of the appeal of dragon boating is the camaraderie and the teamwork.

VO: When we’re practicing, it’s a lot of work and fun times. We tend to laugh a lot even though the coaches are very serious about the practices. They are also very safety-conscious so even if I don’t swim, I’ve never had occasion to be afraid. When we are in a race, we paddle hard and strive to keep in time as getting the boat moving is really dependant on everybody being in sync.

PT: There is something very healing being out on the water working together with others who have survived the same frightening and dreaded disease. It is empowering to get the boat up and moving and surging through the waves regardless of the weather.

Breast cancer can occur in men, thought it is much rarer. Have you given thought to having men join the team?

VO: The only criteria for joining AIAB is that you’re able to keep fit and you are a breast cancer survivor. The gender issue has never been raised and we often speculate when/if we’ll have a male paddler join us.

PT: So far our efforts to recruit haven’t been successful but perhaps that will change with this article.

It’s somewhat ironic that dragon boating originated in Asia, yet there is a real stigma in Asia when it comes to talking about cancer. Are there Asian dragon boat teams?

EM: Talking about cancer is low on the conversation list in Asia. I remember my parents coming home from a funeral, and wondering if the deceased had cancer because he hadn’t looked well lately – he’d looked pale they would say, but they would never talk about it.

PT: AIAB has helped breast cancer teams to get started world-wide and there are teams in Shanghai, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2003 I was on an AIAB crew that travelled to Singapore to participate in a regatta there at the invitation of the Singapore team which AIAB helped start. The Singapore team was a mixed survivor and supporter team as women there needed a family member or friend to paddle with them. That may have changed with our participation and winning the breast cancer challenge race.

What would you say to breast cancer survivors who are thinking about trying dragon boating?

PT: Give it a try, even if you never have been keen on physical activity or team sports – you may surprise yourself. We would love to have you experience it with us. It will enrich your life in many ways: emotionally, mentally and physically.

VO: I’m not athletic but I love it, even if it often means practicing in the rain. The paddling, the camaraderie amongst all the members, the support, the regattas at different venues, the celebrations after – the list goes on. One of the recommendations to avoid a recurrence of breast cancer is exercise, and dragon boating is a great motivator to exercise and keep fit. Try it. You commit to 2 ½ months and if you don’t like it, at least you’ll know!

Anything you’d like to add?

PT: Our mission is to raise breast cancer awareness and to encourage those who have experienced breast cancer to lead full and active lives. And get your mammograms done!

EM: Adding to Patricia’s last words, don’t forget BSE – breast self-examination.


Susan-Anthony-150x150Dragon Boating – A Survivor’s Story (as it appeared on Ezine @rticles)

When something like breast cancer touches your life, many emotions are experienced: fear, anger, pain, an appreciation for one’s loved ones and the little things in life to name a few. If you’re lucky enough to make it through – after tests, lumpectomies, mastectomies, chemotheraphy, radiation, reconstruction – an entirely new palette of emotions arises for many survivors. Now you’re discharged from the medical community that has supported you thus far and out of the loop with many co-workers, friends and family – isolated and sometimes guilty that you survive while others you have met haven’t. You’re depressed, fed up with being a burden, still in shock from the changes to your body, worry whether intimacy is ever again possible. Everyone is expecting you to “get on with life” – but how can you, feeling somehow “less” than you were before? Where do you start?

In 1996, Dr. Don McKenzie of the University of British Columbia began a study to dispel a myth associated with breast cancer survivors and exercise. Until then, survivors were advised not to push themselves physically, and in particular to avoid strenuous use of their arms, in order to avoid a condition called lymphedema. As most breast cancer patients have lymph nodes surgically removed from their armpits, lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic system is unable to function adequately. Tissue swells and fluid is retained. The skin may eventually become discoloured and may become a permanent deformity called elephantiasis.

“Dr. Don” saw dragon boating as the ideal sport to introduce to the survivors. Dragon boating involves strenuous upper-body repetitive motion. It is excellent for cardio fitness, trunk and arm muscles and is safe as it is non weight-bearing. He dubbed the team “Abreast In A Boat” because he also recognized that it would be a sport that could bring women together in their shared experience while increasing awareness for a disease that affects so many. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 9 women are expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in 28 will die of it.

As a result of Dr. Don’s research, breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams have developed across the globe. The women (and some men) survivors have proven Dr. Don’s thesis time and time again. Statistically, there was far less lymphedema and definitely better physical and mental health amongst the paddlers. Also as a result – the ensuing public awareness of the importance of early detection and financial support towards finding a cure for breast cancer has been incalculable.

I have been a member of Abreast In A Boat for the past two years. There are several crews across the BC Lower Mainland but together we make up one larger organization. I have had the honour of bi-weekly practices in Dr. Don’s original dragon boat – “The Doriana” on the beautiful waters of the Burrard Inlet, where we are supervised by bald eagles and visited by seals. We paddle in every weather condition, precipitated by a warm-up, ending with a cool down and pot-luck snacks and coffee (or a bottle of wine) in our clubhouse. The season typically runs from late March until early August, but there are social events year round and we man information booths at many sporting events, and health shows to increase awareness of breast cancer.

In the fall of each year, we recruit new members and sign fitness contracts so that by the time the season begins, we are each fit enough to participate. Fitness workshops are also held in the spring to help us towards this goal. During the season, we compete locally, provincially and even internationally. We are easy to spot an any competition – while every crew has its individual character, we are together a sea of pink – after the pink ribbon which is now recognized universally for breast cancer awareness. Most crews have made up their own songs to celebrate their accomplishments and tease their opponents – one of my favourite ends in “If we beat cancer, we’ll beat you!”

At most regattas or competitions, we hold the “Flower Ceremony”, during which the survivor teams line up parallel to each other, holding the dragon boats together while we sing and wave pink carnations to remember our fallen sisters. It is followed by a minute of silence, after which we and anyone on shore who wants to join us throw our carnations into the water. Then we reach out and hug one another – rarely without tears. It is an incredibly moving experience not only for us but also for the family and friends onshore who know or have lost someone to this terrible disease.

What could not be anticipated from Dr. Don’s original study was the impact it would have on breast cancer survivors. For many like myself, it physically and emotionally became the starting line for “getting on with life”. It signalled the end of isolation, the beginning of a deep camaraderie only those who had experienced living with cancer could understand. Together we commiserate, become a team and learn to support each other. Nothing can match the exhilaration of our paddles cutting through the water in perfect unison, gliding forward, focused on the beat set by our drummer. Together we “leave it all on the water” – the fear and uncertainty that kept us from moving forward in life.

Susan Bee aka Susan Anthony

Rosa van der Zwan

I see the flower
It is so nice
I look out over the water
And I think I am in paradise

The horizon so far
Abundance galore
We step into the boat
And paddle to the other shore

We use our energy
We paddle as a team
Women united
We fulfill a dream

Upper body exercise
It was a taboo
Cancer made us weak
But we proved that dragon boating we could do

We raise breast cancer awareness
We get stronger by the day
Maybe our lives are short
Maybe for a long time we stay

We hug, we cry, we laugh
Mind over matter
Our spirits are high
We learn, we play, we pull together.

Rosa van der Zwan
1947 – 2009

The story of “The Sandy Smith Global Race”

Thank you so much, and thank you Michelle Hanton and your marvellous group of organizers of Abreast in Australia for renewing this wonderful tribute to Sandy. I know Sandy is very proud to have been a part of this event, but also more than a little embarrassed by the whole concept of a race named in her honour.

I would like to talk for a couple of minutes about two things: Sandy, and what she meant to me and perhaps to some of those who had the joy of knowing her; and to dragon boating, and what I think it meant to her.
Shortly after Sandy passed away, in February 2005, I faced the challenge of deciding on a suitable epitaph for her grave marker. The task was made even more difficult because Sandy didn’t leave any clues as to what might be appropriate:

  • though Sandy enjoyed reading, it wasn’t one of her passions, she didn’t have a favourite author;
  • she loved music, but didn’t have a favourite songwriter;
  • she certainly didn’t have a favourite political leader;
  • and although she was a regular churchgoer, she didn’t have a favourite biblical passage.

So it was left entirely to me to come up with the perfect phrase.

Sandy was a person who appreciated simplicity, so I knew I had to keep it simple. I thought a lot about what her life meant to me, and what I thought her life meant to others. And in the end I opted, with the support of our two daughters, for three simple words: For others always…

It’s the way she lived her life.
Everything she did seemed to be for others in her life:

  • for me,
  • for our daughters,
  • for our extended families,
  • for her physiotherapy patients,
  • for our neighbours,
  • for the school band program,
  • and so on.

For others always… I’ll come back to this phrase in a moment.

Let me switch gears now and speak about dragon boat racing, and breast cancer survivors.

Shortly after Sandy was initially diagnosed and then treated for breast cancer, I was asked by my company to transfer from Toronto in Central Canada to Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast. (For those that aren’t aware of just how big Canada is, that’s a distance of about 3400 km, or about 3 ½ times the distance between Brisbane and Sydney.)

Neither of us had ever lived in Vancouver, nor did we have friends or family there. But at least I had a job, co-workers, and pretty soon lots of business contacts. For Sandy, however, loneliness, and I’m convinced now, depression, were all that marked her arrival during a typically wet and dreary Vancouver winter.
It wasn’t until she heard about, and eventually joined Abreast in a Boat during its second year, that Sandy started to come out the deep funk in which she found herself. Abreast in a Boat gave her purpose, direction, support, and eventually many, many friends both locally and around the world.

Abreast in a Boat, and the many, many other teams that have been established everywhere, have used a variety of symbols to inspire and invigorate breast cancer survivors for around the world. Let me point out a few of them:

  • the dragon itself … and all of you have slayed it well.
  • a big clumsy boat – too big for any one person to handle, it achieves movement and direction only as a result of the collective efforts and support of a team.
  • the colour Pink – the symbol of breast cancer awareness.
  • the flower ceremony – both a memorial for those who have not survived, and a challenge to all who witness it that this terrible disease must be beaten.

The organizers of 2005 Abreast in a Boat’s 10th Anniversary regatta in Vancouver created The Sandy Smith Global Race and whether intentionally or not, it too has become for me, a great symbol.

When you stop to think about it, the Sandy Smith Global Race is a silly idea.

Randomly place a bunch of women who have, in many cases, never before even met, in six dragon boats and set them off in a single event to win a trophy that none of them can even take home. Now come on ladies.

In a man’s world a global race would be a race in which only the fiercest competitors would be able to participate. There would be national events intended to ensure only the very best competitors from each nation were sent to represent them. There would be preliminary rounds, finals, and then, like the Olympics, the very best six teams, who have been working together for months, if not years, would get the chance to achieve glory for their nation. Now that’s a global race!

But that’s not The Sandy Smith Global Race.

Instead, everyone gets the chance to participate, and you get into a boat not because of skill or prowess, but because in many cases your teams selected you for reasons of their own. When you entered the race you weren’t the team from Canada, or Italy, or Australia. You were simply a member of boat number two.

And when you got to the finish line first, even though you had paddled your heart out, you were glad not for winning, but for having had the chance to participate.

And this is what Sandy Smith valued about dragon boating. It wasn’t about winning, it was about participating. It wasn’t about personal success, it was about welcoming women from many backgrounds, ages and skill levels to share an experience that would enrich their lives, to give breast cancer survivors a sense of direction, purpose and above all, a sense of living.

Sandy’s epitaph is: For Others Always…

It’s my hope that this “Abreast movement” in which she, and we, her supporters, were so richly rewarded for having participated, will remain faithful to those original goals: to give those women everywhere who need help slaying their dragon a chance. Not to win… but to participate.

On behalf of my daughters Lauren and Sarah, I want to thank the organizers of Abreast in Australia. We are so honoured that you have chosen to help us remember Sandy in this way.

Thank you all.

Paul Smith, Australia 2007