It’s been a long 2014 season and a summer filled with practices. Our crew, Abreast In A Boat – FORT-itude packs up our paddles and on Aug. 28 we board the plane to Venice, Italy. After a 5 hour bus ride we are in Ravenna, where the CCWC dragon boat races are to be held. Our hotel is on the outskirts of the beautiful old town of Ravenna, about 30 minute walk. Perfect for staying in shape and getting some exercise!
After two days of exploring the town, we are ready to be on the water.
Day 1 – It’s the morning of our first practice, and we wake up to howling winds and pouring rain. We did not anticipate this type of weather! We arrive at the race site and are greeted by many teams who are leaving. We are told all practices have been cancelled. The water is too rough, two boats have already been swamped and at least one steers has gone overboard. What a huge disappointment!
Day 2 – The wind is still blowing, but the rain has stopped. We are able to get on the water for a one hour practice; we practice our “starts” and our “turns” as we have our 2000 metre race the next day. What a rush! The first stroke away from the dock and we are in whitecaps with water splashing into our faces and bodies.
Tonight is the opening ceremonies, but we are in for another disappointment. The bus system organized by the Italian Dragon Boat Federation is simply not ready for the number of teams in attendance, and has not calculated the number of buses needed to get us back and forth to the race site where the opening ceremonies are to be held. After two hours of waiting in the parking lot of our hotel, we realize we are not going to be attending the ceremonies. We make the best of something we cannot control and have our own parade in the parking lot. Our supporter’s take a video and photos with our Canadian flag and AIAB banner.
Day 3 – It’s race time! We are so ready! Nervous, but ready! The weather still looks bad, the wind is still blowing, and we are told we can only have 16 paddlers in the boat. After making some difficult decisions, we ask 6 paddlers to sit out. We’re in the marshalling area and ready to load when we’re told that we can have 18 paddlers in the boat. Joy! We love the 2000 metre race. The teams are sent out every 15 seconds, and we are the last team to start. We know what we need to do. Stay aggressive as though we are paddling 4 – 500 metre races. Stick with our strategy. We need to paddle past some of the other teams in front of us. WE DO IT! It’s not until we get to the dock and unload that we learn we have come in 3rd place, and have won Bronze. Gail Bonner, our manager is on shore, jumping up and down with 3 fingers in the air! Canada wins 1st and 3rd, with Australia coming in 2nd.
Day 4 – We have the 200 metre sprints today, with the preliminary races to start. The top 6 teams move onto the Grand Final. We’re in! The races are so close, the Rowbust team from London, Ontario is amazing and so strong; it’s hard to believe they once travelled the same road of breast cancer surgery and treatment as all of us. Rowbust, Dragons Abreast, Australia and Dragonheart, Vermont, U.S.A. seem to be our closest competitors with all of our times being very close. Despite having our best time ever, 58 seconds, Vermont edges us out for 3rd place in the Grand Final.
We have a day off between the 200 metre and 500 metre races so ten of our crew visit the Ravenna War Cemetery. One of our unique outreach opportunities presented itself before we left Langley. It happened when a Langley veteran, 92 year old Bill Nicholson, saw an article in the paper about our upcoming trip to Ravenna. He contacted Carol Short & Cheryl Watson to ask if they might place a poppy on the grave of a Langley soldier who was killed in Ravenna during World War 2. Carol & Cheryl met with Bill and his wife, (who was a breast cancer survivor) the week before leaving Langley to learn of his story and to get his poppy. Seeing the cemetery with its rows and rows of crosses is a very emotional experience, but we are happy to fulfil Bill’s wish. We take photos and a video which we will take to Bill.
The next day we are racing the 500 metre event. The waters are a little calmer today, and as we back our boat into the start line, we are nervous; we know the competition is strong. The first race will determine if we get into the Grand Final. Our families and friends are watching, as are two other women’s crews from our Fort Langley Club. The venue is perfect for spectators; they can see the entire race from the stands lining the course. It isn’t our best race, but we make it to the finals. We need to be more focused in the next race. We are ready to put it all on the line and paddle with passion. It is a really close race and we don’t know where we finish. It takes at least 10 minutes to get waved to the dock to unload. Gail is there with a very big grin on her face. It’s a Bronze Medal!
There is such a good feeling of instant friendship amongst the breast cancer teams. By chance, we meet some of the paddlers from the Florence Dragon Ladies team on the street in Ravenna, (one is wearing a CIBC Run For The Cure shirt), and we have found a home for the paddles that we do not want to take back on the plane. We plan to meet the “Ladies” after our final race to give the paddles to them. We learn after arriving home that the team has 11 new paddlers, and our paddles will go to them.
During the 10 days we are in Ravenna and at the race site, we spread our message. We have been on trains, planes and buses and we hand out our AIAB brochures which we have had translated into 2 dozen different languages. We speak with mixed and women’s teams, with senior and junior teams, all from many countries, including Holland, Israel and Dubai. The 13 breast cancer teams attending the CCWC belong here. We make our presence known on the world stage, and prove beyond a doubt that there is a full life after breast cancer surgery and treatment. We are strong, and healthy and with regular exercise we can reduce our chance of recurrence. It’s been a great 10 days in Ravenna. We’re proud of the difference we made.
Written By: Juanita Peglar