Story 4 of 6

By Jo-Anne Rogerson and Kim Short, KAB Members

“Your team becomes your family, the paddle becomes your best friend, the boat becomes your home and racing becomes your life.”


This quote from the Paddlechica resonated with Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team as we prepared to participate in the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival in Florence, Italy in 2018. So many considerations. Training, fundraising, travel, time away from work and family. Would we be ready? Could we perform as we had in the two previous IBCPC festivals, placing first at these participatory races?

The IBCPC is an ‘international organization whose mandate is to encourage the establishment of breast cancer dragon boat teams, within the framework of participation and inclusiveness.’ That does not preclude some teams from participating with the intent to perform their very best and competitively race down the course. We proudly wore the Canadian flag on our new uniforms and we came to compete in the biggest breast cancer survivors’ dragon boat festival that had ever taken place in the history of the sport.

We committed to months of intense training, indoors during the winter and outdoors in the spring, training camp in Sarasota FL, including drills and race preparation. Add in an endless number of sit-ups, pushups and cardio workouts, members of Knot A Breast were ready to compete at the IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy.

International festivals for breast cancer survivor dragon boaters began in 2005, in Vancouver, BC, with 61 teams and approximately 1,400 in attendance. In 2007, the paddlers flocked to Caloundra, Australia with 85 teams and 1,800 in attendance. Then on to Peterborough, Ontario, Canada in 2014 with 65 teams and 2,000 in attendance. The IBCPC was formally established at the Peterborough festival and it is a growing international festival held every four years. Knot A Breast was the fastest team in Peterborough and again in Sarasota, Florida in 2014. There were 101 teams and 3,000 in attendance in Sarasota. There were 128 teams from 28 countries in Florence, Italy. There were approximately 3000 participants in the three-day festival along the Arno River.

Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team photo at 2018 IBCPC Festival, Florence, Italy: (left to right) First row: Leslie Williams, Ann Hewitson, Lynn Youngman, Liz Psutka, Helen Shearer, Sharon Hielema, Aleta Thompson, Sharon Richardson, Lorraine Martin, IBCPC Ambassador to KAB Anna-Gloria; Second row: Donna Reise (steersperson), Rebecca Walker, Vivian Medley, Carrie Brooks-Joiner, Michelle Lapointe, Marg Piper, Christine Carey, Anna Candelori, Shida Asmaeil-Yari, Lynda Benison, Nancy Lynn, Kathy Levy (coach), Karen Goldsmith, Nancy Jones; Third row: Geri Schweinbenz, Jo-Anne Rogerson, Tracy McInnis, Kim Short, Judy-Anne Sleep, Kathy Martin, Kristen Winkworth, Vera Fritz, Nancy Hindmarsh; Back row: Carol Myers, Marla Iyer, Kathy MacFarlane, Shelley Lockley, Penny Enos

On Thursday, July 5th, 2018, on our way to the one allotted on-water practice, team members took notice of dozens of signs posted throughout Florence and at the park entrance featuring our incredible, famous coach, Kathy Levy! As we made our way into Cascine Park along the Arno River, excitement mounted as we passed hundreds of team tents already set up in the athletes’ village on our way to find our Knot A Breast tent. The athletes’ village and waterway was a beehive of activity as last minute preparations were taking place including setting up the port-a-potties, the tents, the timing and announcement booth, the vendor area, the marshalling area, and the security fencing. The excitement level was building. We loaded our practice boat and settled into our practice drills.

Coach Kathy and Steersperson, Donna Reise had scouted the race course. One experienced teammate said quietly, “you will experience a wide variety of emotions over the next few days”. Lots of butterflies, extreme heat, and anticipation mixed with anxiety. Kathy started to call commands and we settled into our familiar drills. It felt good to sit in the boat. Afterwards, friends who had not seen us paddle before were heard to remark on how we could paddle so well together and the military precision of our movement as a team. We had put in the time. Now we just had to execute the plan. We had a great (albeit hot) practice.

The Opening Ceremonies held on Friday, July 6th, 2018 was nothing short of spectacular. Areas of Florence were decorated in pink in honour of the Firenze in Rosa event. Teams from around the globe met at the Piazza Pitti to line up for the Pink Parade of Nations. Teams paraded along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge where tourists and team supporters lined the streets as we all walked proudly holding our team flags. The Knot A Breast supporters were easy to find along the parade route dressed smartly in their new KAB purple golf shirts and hats. A few stepped in to join our formation as we made our way to Piazza Signoria.

The array of colours of team jerseys from around the world was astounding, and energy levels were high. A formation of jets did a fly-by releasing a cornucopia of colours in their contrails. After such an exciting day, we needed to rest up and focus for race day. 

1st Race Day, Saturday, July 7th

The first race for Knot A Breast was Race 4 at 9:24 AM. We paddled to the start line never taking our eyes off Coach Kathy sitting on the drum. Deep breaths in and out. Eyes inside the boat. Focus. We have trained for this. We were in lane 3 up against Australia, two teams from the USA, and two teams from Italy.

The announcer calls out “Ready Ready”… and off we go! We came in first place with a time of 2:21.740 (minutes:seconds). 

In between races it was important to eat light, keep hydrated, and move. There was plenty of time to visit with other teams from around the world and to browse (or shop) at the vendors set up in the park. Some of us stayed at our tent and caught a little shut eye!

Heat 2 was at 5:42 PM. Breathe. Focus. Eyes in the boat. Off we go again. We were up against two USA teams, New Zealand, and Italy. This was a very tight race with a first place finish of 2:24.010; the USA Dragon Dream Team placed second at 2:24.270.  Too close!

Day one was over. After a light healthy dinner, we needed to get a good nights’ sleep. Instead of counting sheep, the race pieces floated in our brains over and over again…Hold; Ready Ready; The Start; Race Pace/Middle of the Race; The Finish.  

2nd Race Day, Sunday, July 8th

Family and friends have gathered along the banks of the Arno River. We know they are there, but we cannot cross over the bridge for even a quick visit as the team must stay close together.

Heat 3, Race 25 in Lane 3. Breathe. Focus. Eyes in the boat. Off we go again against New Zealand, two USA teams, and Italy. This certainly wasn’t our best race. It was a close race with first place going to Cansurvive from New Zealand with a time of 2:24.350; 2nd place to USA’s Dragon Dream Team with a time of 2:24.380 and Knot a Breast with a 3rd place finish of 2:24.820. We had some work to do to re-focus before the next race. Visualize. Keep moving. Breathe. Hydrate. Visualize. Keep moving. Breathe. Hydrate.  

Final race, Sunday, July 8th

The time had come for the final race of the 2018 IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival. As we proceed to the marshalling area, one could not help but notice the vast sea of pink t-shirts lining the banks along one side of the Arno River while friends, family and supporters were lining the opposite side. What an incredible sight! Need to stay focused.

Eyes in the boat. Deep breaths in and out.

Over the loud speaker we heard, “LANE 3…C A N A D A  Knot A Breast-A!”, with Italian enthusiasm! We were competing with USA’s Survivors in Sync in Lane 1; New Zealand’s Cansurvive in Lane 2; USA’s Dragon Dream Team in Lane 4 and Italy’s Florence Dragon Ladies in Lane 5.

This race felt different than the others; it felt good…like a machine moving through the water. Our blades knifed and ripped through the water in complete and powerful synchronization. There was a dull roar in our ears as we paddled up the Arno, but we did not know what it was.  Up. Up. Up. Up. Up. And more Up’s (increasing the power and rate of our paddle blades)!!!!

We crossed the finish line not quite sure of the end result, but we all knew it felt strong. And then we get the sign…WE DID IT!! Time 2:20.330. Knot A Breast crossed the finish line ahead of all the other boats.

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Knot A Breast is a successful team. We succeed because we believe that Together Everyone Achieves More:  

  • Beyond our own races, Knot A Breast team members also participated in composite team races joining forces with Cambrèsis Dragon Boat Team from Caudry, France.
  • We were represented by a teammate in the Sandy Smith Global Finale.

Our team succeeds in part because of our supporters, who contribute so much in countless ways. They include:

  • A certified personal trainer, the sister of one of our members, who lead early morning workouts at the hotel. Christine had us all engaged in cardio-based workouts before we ventured out each day. 
  • Dr. David Levy was there every step of the way tending to our physical needs and advising on many levels.
  • The festival provided us with an Ambassador, the lovely Anna Gloria, who gave us useful Firenze tips, snacks, coffee, and the much coveted water and toilet paper in the athletes’ village.
  • Partners and friends who attended in person on the banks of the Arno or watched video coverage from home.

After our final race, once we caught our breath, we paddled up the opposite side of the bank along the Arno. We saw our KAB supporters of family and friends dressed proudly in their purple shirts. The team side of the Arno was populated with a sea of people wearing the IBCPC pink t-shirts. That was when we realized where the roar of cheering came from during the race! What a sight to behold. The feelings of joy, accomplishment and pride were overwhelming. A memory to cherish for a lifetime.

“Never stop trying; never stop believing; never give up and PADDLES UP!”

2018 IBCPC Festival final race with KAB in Lane 3