Story 3 of 6
By Kristen Winkworth, KAB Member
I joined the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team in the summer of 2017, just after I finished my treatments and I had one more surgery to go that August. The team asked me if I would be interested in joining them the following summer in Florence, Italy for the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival. My husband, Jim, and I discussed it for about 5 minutes. We decided that it would be an amazing opportunity for me to travel with the team and support our teammates as they raced.
At the beginning of 2018, I was nominated by our Knot A Breast executive to represent KAB as a Canadian paddler in the Sandy Smith Global Finale at the IBCPC Festival. I’ll be honest, when I was given this news, I cried and was filled with emotion. I was extremely honoured and very excited to be given this opportunity — especially as a ‘newbie’ —to participate in this important finale. I didn’t expect this.
I did my research ahead of time, because I wanted to know about Sandy Smith. I learned that she was an important woman and as I read more about her life, it further impacted my participation in this event. I read that the Sandy Smith Global Finale is an important tradition at all IBCPC festivals. The finale represents the global nature of breast cancer and it honours Sandy for the extensive work that she did to help new teams in the early years.
It was the most incredible experience! I was in a boat with teammates from around the world and this was truly amazing! There was a language barrier for many of us, but that didn’t matter. We sat in the boat, we smiled, chatted, laughed, hugged and cried together. We had an instant bond and we understood each other’s mixed emotions. There were women from Denmark, Argentina, Germany, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada in our boat. My seat-mate was from Australia and we spent time chatting and getting to know each other, and exchanged emails.
When Sandy’s husband and children spoke prior to the race, I felt a connection to them, having lost my own mother to breast cancer. I could hear in their voices how proud they were of their mom, just as I was of mine. As we paddled, I was paddling in memory of Sandy, a special women who was instrumental in helping to start dragon boat teams for breast cancer survivors in a variety of countries.
After the race, we remained in the boats for the Flower Ceremony, which was very emotional too. Hundreds of gerbera daisies with fuchsia petals were released into the river. The stemmed daisies adorned the river water representing all individuals lost to breast cancer, remembered and revered by those who witness this heart-moving event. The camaraderie of so many people from different countries coming together, all with a connection to each other was priceless. This was the beginning of healing for me in my journey, and it was the beginning of when I started to live my life again — living in the present moment and appreciating the simple things in life. I was able to finally let go of the emotional toll that had consumed my life since my diagnosis, throughout my surgeries and treatments while re-living my Mom’s journey. KAB has played an important role in this turning point in my life as well—helping me to see that there is life beyond breast cancer and that cancer doesn’t define me.
I am so grateful and I feel very honoured to have been part of this incredible experience! I will always treasure the special memories from the Sandy Smith Global Finale. For me, this was a very special role at the 2018 IBCPC Festival in Florence, Italy and I will always be grateful to Knot A Breast for giving me this opportunity. When I returned from Italy and my family and friends asked me about my experience, my first response was, “it’s about the people.” I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world!
Who was Sandy Smith?Sandy Smith joined the first Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team, Abreast In A Boat, in Vancouver in its second year in 1997. Dr. Don McKenzie, who started the team for women with a history of breast cancer, recalls saying, “Well, if you want to look at how it’s supposed to be done on the water, have a look at Sandy Smith.”
As more Dragon Boat Breast Cancer Survivor Teams were springing up in Victoria and Montreal, and more women from around the world were reaching out about forming their own teams, Sandy enthusiastically stepped up to help them out. Sandy became the first Global Liaison, spreading the sport — and the message that breast cancer survivors can exercise — around the world.
In 2002, Sandy died from recurring breast cancer. In 2005, the first International Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat festival was held in Vancouver. Smith’s teammates came up with a plan to honour her with a special race: instead of pitting teams from around the world against each other, all the boats would be made up of paddlers from different teams and countries. The Sandy Smith Global Finale is held at all the international festivals, including the 2018 festival in Florence, Italy.