Juanita Peglar, Cheryl Watson, Linda Acosta and Deb Thiessen – September 2002

Have you heard the saying “All roads lead to Rome”? Well we never imagined that the rocky road of breast cancer would lead us there!

We four represented Abreast in a Boat at the World Club Crew Championships in Rome, Italy. Known as “Internationally Abreast” our team was comprised of women, all breast cancer survivors, from Australia and Canada. The two other breast cancer boats there were from Philadelphia, (U.S.A.) and Dragons Abreast (South Australia). Together we took our message of hope, support, and friendship to the women of Italy. We were proud to be the example that women with breast cancer can live full and active lives.

Michelle Hanton, our leader and manager from Australia, had contacted Murray Cobban, the Australian Ambassador, to let him know of our arrival in Rome. As a result we were invited to a reception at the Ambassador’s residence where we met with the media, physicians, dignitaries and representatives from next year’s World Championships in Shanghai. We also met the ambassador’s wife, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was commencing chemotherapy the week we were in Rome. Everyone there was extremely supportive and aided in getting out our message of hope.

Michelle never missed an opportunity to get our message of hope out, nor did she ever miss a photo op or media op. Before our first race she arranged for our team to be blessed by Cambodian Monks. It was a very spiritual chant that left us feeling empowered and very strong.

After one of our first races an Italian lady named Orlanda Cappelli spoke with Linda and asked if she could race with our team. She is a breast cancer survivor who paddles with a mixed team. Linda translated Orlanda’s request and by the next race she had become our drummer and remained so for the next few races. She is now very eager to start a breast cancer survivor team in Italy!

For the first time ever a breast cancer team paddled in a 2000m race. No, we didn’t place in the top three but the love, support and cheering that we received from the shore line put us first place in the hearts of everyone there. The noise from the crowd was almost deafening and it was very emotional for us. Our final race on Sunday was again very emotional! Our Italian friend Orlanda arranged for roses and all of the breast cancer boats came together to toss the flowers into the water. Again the crowd was awesome and this time very quiet as we took a minute of silence to remember the women who were no longer with us and, as well, those women and their families who are now fighting breast cancer.

During the three days of racing there was a documentary crew who followed us and filmed us at every turn. The documentary should air sometime in the late fall on the Womens’ Network. We will keep you posted on the date.

How did we do? We were successful! At the spectacular opening ceremonies it was announced that the first Italian breast cancer survivor team would be formed this year in Rome. It was also announced that that boat would attend and race at the Worlds in Shanghai. So next year will be the first time that a breast cancer dragon boat team has ever raced in Asia. We raised awareness as we were visible anywhere we stood in our hot pink race shirts. We were definitely full of life, we definitely kept up with the Australian women, and we definitely brought home medals! Two Bronze, count ’em, two! Life, indeed, is very full and active! We feel very proud and privileged to have represented Abreast In A Boat and thank you all for giving us this opportunity of a lifetime.

Juanita Peglar, Cheryl Watson, Linda Acosta and Deb Thiessen – September 2002