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