If you are hanging out with a Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team member during the winter months, you might hear them say, “I’m in the tank Saturday morning.” What vision does this bring to your mind? Maybe one of these definitions?

Tank NOUN

  1. a large receptacle or storage chamber, especially for liquid or gas. 
  2. a heavy armored fighting vehicle carrying guns and moving on a continuous articulated metal track. 
  3. NORTH AMERICAN informal: a cell in a police station or jail.

Number 1 would be close to what they are describing, but it is not a gas tank like in your car. On Saturday mornings in the winter, KAB members head to the Welland International Flatwater Centre (WIFC) to work out with their fellow paddlers, SNCC Welland Warlocks in the ‘tank.’ The WIFC is a state-of-the-art indoor facility for rowing, canoe, kayak and dragon boat training. The facility was built for the Pan Am Games and is the only one of its kind in North America.

In the summer season we train on open water and work hard to make the boat move through the water. In the tank, the boats are fixed in place and the water moves. Think of a treadmill, but with water as the moving surface instead of rubber. Different configurations of “seats” can be lowered into the tank that simulate rowing shells, canoes, kayaks and dragon boats. It differs from a swimming pool in that the water is less than a meter deep, and large pumps hidden at the end of the tank push the water from one end to the other creating a current. Coaches can move around the tank and even step into the boats to assist with technique, make corrections, and generally do what they do, coach. Mirrors are mounted along the sides of the tank so the athletes can view their reflections to review their form and work on perfecting their technique.

Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team are very fortunate to be able to train at WIFC. Next time you hear a KAB member say, ‘I’m in the tank’, know that they are in winter training to perfect their technique and are dreaming of the upcoming competitive season.

By Carrie Brooks-Joiner, KAB member

A handful of Knot A Breast team members attended the 10th Biennial Life After Breast Cancer Conference offered by the Juravinski Cancer Centre, October 25, 2019 at the Hamilton Convention Centre. We staffed a table in the trade show, proudly displayed a selection of trophies and medals, and tried to encourage as many women as possible to join the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team. Nineteen conference attendees signed up for more information about our team!

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Alexandra Ginty, a Community Family Physician and the Regional Primary Care Lead for Cancer Care in Mississauga/Halton. Dr. Ginty shared her story of how she coped with her own breast cancer diagnosis and transitioned from the doctor to patient role. She is a strong advocate for art therapy, journaling and a cognitive behavior therapy approach to improve mental health. Alex shared what she called “Positive Thinking Cards”. Each has a different theme such as “Resilience”, “No Excuses”, and were a simple list of reminders to herself. Card #1, “Things to Remember” included “Enjoy every moment. Ask for help. Take naps. Don’t feel guilty.”, etc. in her long and personal list. I recall such reminders as resonating in the days when the word ‘cancer’ was a 24/7 thought and getting through the day was daunting. Dr. Ginty’s message was well received by many in attendance who were looking for such guidance.

The conference was a good reminder to me of how far I have come in the four years since my diagnosis. I no longer need the simple, positive reminders to live and keep going. Sitting in the audience in my Knot A Breast team jersey, my mind wandered to what would a positive thinking card look like for our members. Phrases from Coach Kathy and Coach Doug, and my own mantras flooded my mind. Below is the list I came up with.

Positive Thinking card for Dragon Boating

There would be no Knot A Breast team without cancer. Although the grip of cancer has brought us together, it is the positive mindset that defines our team. Such a mindset is the foundation of the team’s success and the thread that weaves the members into a team (especially when one of us stumbles). I have no doubt that the team is a vital part of the cancer story of each member that has taken a seat in the boat over the last twenty years. It is not a positive thinking ‘card’ that helps guide my story and picks me up when I falter; it is a dragon boat full of positive thinking.

As Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team winds down our on-water paddling season for 2019, we reflect on this outstanding year by recognizing the amazing support of our home base, Macassa Bay Yacht Club (MBYC). They do so much for us: provide a club house, boat dockage and storage, washrooms and showers, a pleasant garden to do our warm-ups and stretches in, social memberships with its perks, etc. And that is only the physical support. As Breast Cancer Survivors, their emotional support means even more to us.

As a small thank-you, we host their Saturday BBQ twice a summer. This year it was August 17 and September 21, 2019 when our members, family and friends took on food preparation, cooking and sales for KAB paddlers, MBYC boaters and their supporters to purchase. Sausages and hamburgers (and one veggie burger) with all the fixings were simply delicious. KAB member, Aleta Thompson, donated her heavenly, homemade butter tarts to sell. Funds raised through food sales and a 50/50 draw are used by MBYC to support worthwhile causes in our community such as YMCA Hamilton-Burlington Strong Kids Campaign.

Thank-you Macassa Bay Yacht Club: you are more than a friend – you are family!

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by Christine Carey, KAB member

A team isn’t built in a day. It takes years of learning a stroke technique (and then re-learning a new stroke), adaptability within the dragon boat and desire to succeed. Building on the expert coaching from Kathy Levy, Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor dragon boat team has exemplified the definition of teamwork and demonstrated that great things can come from a difficult journey. The fundamental meaning of TEAM, Together Everyone Achieves More, remains a guiding principle for Knot A Breast in the dragon boat and as a cancer support group on land.

Recognizing that similar teamwork values remain the foundation and strength of effective companies, Knot A Breast provided a Team Building Opportunity for Stryker employees on July 26, 2019 at the Macassa Bay Yacht Club. Learning the intricate details of the stroke and role of each section in the boat, about 15 Stryker employees learned the importance of working together to achieve the goal of moving a one ton dragon boat (and of course, not tipping the boat). It was an hour of fun, under the hot sun, where Stryker was able to experience the success of working as a TEAM.

Stryker is one of the world’s leading medical technology companies and, together with their customers, is driven to make healthcare better. They offer innovative products and services in Orthopaedics, Medical and Surgical, and Neurotechnology and Spine that help improve patient and hospital outcomes. Stryker has about 38,000 employees worldwide and is #8 on Fortune’s World’s Best Workplaces in 2019. Stryker Canada headquarters is located in a new facility in Waterdown.

The corporate team building event touched on the individual elements of what helps a team succeed, both in the boat and at the workplace.

TOGETHER: Teams are more than just a collection of people; together poeple produce synergy and create an outcome that is greater than the simple sum of its individual members.

  • As in the workplace, the paddlers learned that various complementary strengths work together and move the dragon boat with greater ease.
  • Effective communication and collaboration in the boat helped Stryker successfully complete a 200m paddle.
Knot A Breast Coach Kathy coaching the Stryker employees about the essentials of dragon boating

EVERYONE: An effective team environment encourages people to realize and appreciate the strengths and unique contribution of everyone on their team.

  • The paddlers experienced the strengths and critical roles of each section within the dragon boat (Pacers first three seats, Engine Room next four seats and Rockets last three seats), a skill that will undoubtedly be beneficial in group projects too!  
  • Although assigned individual seats in the boat, paddlers were exposed to the role of each section, and that everyone has something to contribute to the team’s success.
Stryker employees with paddles up ready to move the boat as one team

ACHIEVES: Competition leads people to do their personal best, however excessive workplace competition can be counter-productive, ultimately affecting team objectives and company culture.  

  • Stryker employees had the opportunity to meet some of Knot A Breast’s Breast Cancer Survivor paddlers and learn how they overcame the challenges of breast cancer and their determination in leading a healthy life after cancer. They learned about the support offered to all members and their families. 
  • The paddlers learned the value of encouragement on the dragon boat and the importance of trusting your crew.
Stryker employees digging deep with encouragement from Coach Kathy

MORE: Teams are effective in achieving challenging goals when its members share knowledge and communicate well. They become even more effective when leadership and overall performance accountability is shared among its members. 

  • Observing the benefit of effective coaching and concise communication from Coach Kathy, there was noticeable progress in moving the dragon boat and improved individual performance from all paddlers.
  • Stryker learned to appreciate how the careful development of skills can improve overall confidence and better performance to achieve more.
  • They also experienced how positive activities and social bonding outside the workplace can unite employees and improve company dynamics.

Following the success of this Team Building Event, Knot A Breast plans to continue providing similar corporate team building opportunities in 2020!  We look forward to building on our successes and sharing the enjoyment of the team sport of dragon boating.

For more information on a Team Building Event with Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team please contact us.

by Carolyn Lucier

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Dear Diary,

Hey, it’s me (again). Today was a BIG day! I participated in my first dragon boat race with the Knot A Breast (KAB) Breast Cancer Survivor Team at the Hamilton Waterfest Dragon Boat Festival.

I am what KAB calls a “newbie”. As new members of this high-caliber team, we spend our first year learning the dragon boat paddling technique, and how the team works together to move the boat, and we get to race in one “newbie race”. For me, that was Waterfest.

That’s me, on the left with the other 2019 “newbies” and Coach Kathy, 4th from the left.

There was so much going through my mind and body: the butterflies at the starting line, the adrenaline pumping as we fought our way through those 200 metres, my desire to do my best for our team. As I’ve gotten older, the adage “a first time for everything” has been used less and less… but not today! The exhilaration of doing something new is even better now than it ever was, especially thinking back to where I’ve been over the past few years.

And coming off the water today, that’s exactly what I was doing – thinking back to everything that brought me to that moment. Isn’t it strange how some of the best things can come out of our worst moments? Going through a life-altering event like breast cancer really made me realize how important my health was, and what I had to lose (and when you only have one body, that means everything). Anyways, you know how I started off slow, walking around the neighbourhood and paddle boarding at the cottage, inching my way towards going to the gym (the gym!). Finally, after meeting with other members of Knot A Breast, I took the plunge and joined the team at winter indoor training.

That’s our team, lane 4, 2nd from the left, at the start line with a mixture of butterflies and adrenaline!

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and started noticing negative changes in my body, I vowed to get out of that place. Now, I only notice positive changes – I can do jumping jacks again!! I am in the best physical shape I’ve been in, in a long time. And I’ve been inducted into a community of amazing women that I can learn from and share with. Their mentorship and strength have been exactly the things I needed to push me along on this journey. I don’t look at Knot A Breast as being a group of women with breast cancer, I see us as a group of women committed to our goals, our health, and each other. Through every missed stroke (many!) and every accidental splash (sorry!), I have stayed motivated through my team’s words of encouragement.

And here I am! The race is over, my blood is pumping, and it feels sooooooo gooooood to be in this place. I knew what was important in my life all along, it just took a little coaxing, you know? I know you know. Anyways, that’s enough for today, dear Diary; I think the harbour water is going to my head!

With gratitude, Carolyn

PS: We won a bronze medal!

Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team is literally moving forward with celebrating 20 years of paddling in Hamilton. Look for our team photo on HSR buses, the Hamilton Waterfront Trust Trolley, and at Macassa Bay Yacht Club!

Advertisement showing team paddling during race
Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team ad

The photo was taken by Don Wood, one of our fans and husband to teammate Kim Short, during one of our races. Jessica Combate, Graphic Designer specializing in healthcare and corporate communications (contact at 289-489-7048, jessica.combate@gmail.com), designed the advertisement. Knot A Breast would like to thank both of them for capturing the spirit of our team: Together Everyone Achieves More.

We hope the advertisement builds community awareness of our 20 years of showing women and men that they can lead full and active lives after treatment for breast cancer.

Looking up at the sun and leave shadows through the new team tent canopy

Last fall, the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Team’s Executive decided to use a portion of the proceeds received from the City of Hamilton Enrichment Fund Grant to purchase a new team tent. After speaking to many teams at last year’s GWN races in Toronto, the work began to compare pricing, seek out a supplier and to design a new tent! Outlet Tags Canopies, Toronto, was the chosen provider with the best pricing and quick turn-around time. Several dragon boat teams have used this company and they produce a fantastic tent.

A special thank you to Steve Evans, who put in a considerable amount of time working on various colour and style templates. The KAB Board tossed around several colour schemes and decided on a nice clean look with white walls and canopy, and purple valance. Steve worked his magic on configuring the KAB logo to really stand out. The KAB logo is proudly displayed on the inside and outside of the back wall and on the canopy.

New team tent with KAB members resting under it
New Knot A Breast team tent

On May 26, 2019, as team members walked down the hill towards the team area at the 13th Annual Toronto Women’s Dragon Boat Festival, Heart Lake Conservation Area, Brampton, they were greeted with a brand new, 10 ft. by 20 ft. team tent proudly displaying a full view of the Knot A Breast logo! Thank-you City of Hamilton for helping us with our team shelter and team spirit.

The sure signs of spring are often thought to be robins and daffodils. But for dragon boat paddlers like Knot A Breast Cancer Survivor members, there is only one significant symbol of the shift from winter to spring: boats in the water.

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On Saturday, April 13, 2019, the three Welland dragon boats, weighing about 600 lbs (270 kg) each were removed from storage at the Welland International Flatwater Centre and placed in the canal. Through multi-team collaboration with members of Knot A Breast, SNCC Warlocks and Rowbust, each boat was slowly walked down the hill in a coordinated awkward shuffle.

Spring training has officially started!

Plaque on the KAB Memorial Bench at Hamilton Harbour waterfont: "Knot A Breast so long as we live they too shall live as we remember them"

On Sunday, September 23, 2018, Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team celebrated their twentieth anniversary at the Macassa Bay Yacht Club (MBYC). The celebration was well attended by many former and current team members, and their numerous supporting families and friends. The event was held as an open house with food and drink for all, including a beautiful cake and a toast with pink Prosecco. There was a display of all the historical trophies and medals that Knot A Breast has earned over the past twenty years as well as a storyline detailing the highlights over the years.

Michelle Lapointe and Gwen Vernon prepared a captivating slide show presentation that played throughout the afternoon and will be used during many events to come. Knot A Breast President, Liz Psutka was the emcee for the event. Leslie Williams read the Knot A Breast prayer, and speeches were made by our Founder and Coach, Kathy Levy and by the MBYC Commodore, Jeff Dziepak.

After the formalities, the group took a walk down to the water’s edge and paused at the Knot A Breast memorial bench where they all placed pink carnations in the water, which is the tradition to honour all those who have passed on from breast cancer.

It was a wonderful afternoon that acknowledged twenty years of success as Hamilton’s premier breast cancer survivor dragon boat team.