As a 4-year paddler, the time seemed right to make my way to a dragon boat training camp, Space Coast Dragon Boat Camp, located in Melbourne, Florida. There were many factors for me to consider before committing to this – accommodations, transportation, finance, just to name a few. I wondered if the training would be too challenging, and if I’d be able to handle it.  I’ve surprised myself in the past, so it was time to surprise myself again. Thirteen of my teammates also made the decision to attend the camp, so I was not alone.  

Accommodations were made close to the camp, and the planning began! I decided to join a convoy of 8 teammates to travel there by vehicle. (It helps to have a vehicle to transport paddles and life jackets. While they CAN be checked at the airport, it’s much safer to have them transported by car. ) We left Hamilton at 4:00 am on Friday morning, spent the night in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then arrived in Melbourne in the late afternoon on Saturday.

Camp began on Monday morning, after a brief meeting with all paddlers on the Sunday evening. We began our day at 7:00 am with mobility exercises with Anne Baker. As a paddler herself, she is extremely knowledgeable about how paddling affects our bodies. Lots of moans and groans could be heard during our sessions as we worked through these stretches.  After 45 minutes of stretching, we headed to Oars & Paddles Park for our first in-boat lesson with our coach, Aaron. One of the benefits for those of us living in colder climes,  is that we truly have the most wonderful sea life to observe in a sunny and warm climate. From the very first paddle, we were fortunate to see dolphins dancing in the water. And this continued for the entire week!  

Aaron took us out and began the process of getting to know us as a team and as individual paddlers. With his gentle guidance and encouragement, we also began the process of getting to know him. We all enjoyed our time on the water- it was exciting to be back in a dragon boat to enjoy the sport we love. We had a second practice in the afternoon which, while exhausting, was highly successful. The week went on like this – yoga/mobility, practice at 8:15 and the second at 2:45, both lasting for 90 minutes. In addition, we had a daily “Coach’s Talk”, which was not mandatory to attend. We learned about the origins of the camp, and the direction the camp was heading in the future.  

On Thursday, we had a 16 km paddle, known as the Causeway Paddle. To be honest, this paddle was something I was most apprehensive about.  It seemed daunting to me, despite reassurances from others that it was manageable.  I have never paddled this distance since I’ve started dragon boating but I was there to get the most from this camp, so off we went. And it WAS the most challenging paddle I’ve ever experienced but I’m happy to say that I did it. We ALL did it! And it was exhilarating, to say the least. 

Saturday was race day – a 2000m race for the 5 teams at camp. For a 2k race, boats are released at the start line every 30 seconds. For me, the 2000m is a race of endurance and strength. Our team is very much accustomed to emptying our tanks and leaving nothing on the boat. And this race was no exception. With 17 paddlers in our boat, we came in second place. We were thrilled!  The boat that took first place had a full boat of 20 paddlers.  

Traditionally, after this race, a lunch and social event takes place to close out the week. Our team did a dance for both Jim Farintosh, founder of the Space Camp, and Aaron. It was very well received and our team had a lot of fun with it.  

Saturday evening, we convened at our condo and had a potluck dinner. What better way to empty our fridges and pantries than holding a potluck! The festivities started at 5:00 and it wrapped at 7:00 – exhaustion had become our constant companion at this point. Many were preparing for the trip home and wanted to get to sleep early.  

I think I speak for all of us when I say that these camps are a real learning experience. Having a different perspective on this sport was immensely helpful to me and, with the base I had already developed, I learned a lot. My goal is to bring this knowledge onto the water when we get back to training in May!  

Bryan Kelly is the Owner of SMBS Personal Training and Wellness Studio, located in Hamilton, Ontario.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Bryan Kelly to ask him about his role as a Personal Trainer. Bryan has been instrumental in working with our team and with our team members individually to help build strength not just for our sport, but for every day life. 

What are your qualifications? 

Although the industry is not regulated, I am a Certified Personal Trainer. In order to remain certified, I need to complete credits through continuing education on a yearly basis. I am also a Certified Indoor Cycling Instructor, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Coach, and a Pilates Instructor. 

How long have you been in the fitness industry? 

I was certified in July of 2003 but have been in the industry 20+ years. 

Is there anything unique about training women with breast cancer? Any specific challenges? 

The short answer is that clients always come with challenges and it’s my job to adapt to these challenges. Even prior to being involved with Knot a Breast, I had clients that had battled cancer. Knot a Breast clients taught me more about breast cancer than I ever knew. Out of that, I’ve come to realize that scar tissue can be a huge issue and one of the largest challenges that these women face. I’ve realized the importance of how it all plays a role and how hard it is to deal with. As well, I’ve heard that it’s not something that is really dealt with enough after surgery. 

You recently had an opportunity to paddle a dragonboat. Did it change anything with regard to workouts for your KAB clients? 

I always knew that dragonboat paddling was one-sided but once I paddled, I better understood it and felt it – the “awkwardness” of the motion strengthened what I was originally thinking and helped me to stay the course with the KAB members. 

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding around diet and nutrition. What advice would you give to those looking for this information? 

The most important thing I believe is that there needs to be a good balance – no diets, no trends, no cutting things out. There is no easy fix. Common sense and consistency is so important. A large part of working out is mental. You need to balance your approach. No over doing the good or the bad stuff!

With regard to diet and exercise, what does a typical day look like for you? 

I’ve had to revisit my diet and nutrition needs over the years due to changes in my own body. Breakfast is a smoothie with a type of greens, a combination of different sources of starches, proteins and fats to try to get as much nutrition from as many sources as I’m able to for myself. Then a snack with again a different type of green veggie with hummus, a variety of nuts, and usually a small piece of cheese. Lunch is a protein, starch and salad. And dinner changes daily (with an 8 year old more pizza then I care to admit). Depending on the goals that I set for myself and what I’m trying to achieve, I workout 4-6 days a week, mostly resistance based training. 

Do you have any success stories you can share with us? 

Honestly working as a trainer for over 20 year there has been quite a few. I’ve had people come in with an injury or have pain that affects their quality of life on a daily basis. After working with them for a while, they say that they no longer think about that pain. I love hearing that working with me has impacted a positive change to live a better quality of life. 

Your current business model is 100% remote. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? 

Prior to the pandemic, I was doing remote training for about 15 years with select clients. So switching to 100% remote was not a big deal for me. The challenging part was getting clients to understand that they can work out in their own home with little to no equipment and still get a quality workout. I believe I have been able to deliver safe and effective programs to my clients and classes online.

What is the biggest challenge you face right now? 

It’s what a lot of small business owners face I guess – advertising and getting the message out that I can help people achieve their goals and help them feel better. 

What is the best thing about your job? 

Helping people to realize they can achieve their goals. 

What do you do for fun? 

My favourite thing is spending time with my wife, Juliette, and my son, Max. It doesn’t even matter what we’re doing, as long as we’re spending time together. 

What is something people would be surprised to know about you? 

Maybe some people don’t really know that I’m an introvert! I never was really comfortable speaking in front of a group, but when it comes to fitness and nutrition it’s not really a problem. I guess it is just where I am comfortable. 

If you were doing what your 10 year-old self wanted to do, what would your career be? 

At that time, I guess it would have been a veterinarian. When I was young boy in grade school, I spoke with my teacher about my love for animals and always having pets growing up. I thought caring for animals as a veterinarian would be great, but as I grew up I realized I would have a hard time seeing very sick animals I could not help, or seeing them die or needing to put them to sleep.  

Thanks to Bryan for taking the time to speak with us!

When asked about their experiences with Bryan, team members offered this:

When Covid hit and gyms closed, my long time personal trainer, who had trained me and supported me through two Dragon Boat and one Outrigger World Championship, decided it might be a good time to retire. Great for her, but what about me? I wasn’t sure that I wanted to compete internationally anymore, but I knew that I wanted to maintain the strength and fitness that I did have and wasn’t sure I could do it on my own. Not long after that I joined KAB and, through the Metabolic sessions he conducted for the team during the off-season, I met Bryan Kelly. After realizing that working out on my own wasn’t cutting it, I decided to reach out to Bryan to chat about personal training. Great decision. Bryan listens to his clients and works with them to ensure that they get what they want from their workouts. He’s caring, compassionate, and a lot of fun. And, while I can’t say that I always look forward to my session with him, I’m always happy that I made the effort when they’re done. I have  made gains in strength, but, probably more important, I have seen significant improvement in my functional fitness. We on KAB are very fortunate to have him as a resource and a support.Sue H

Since 2016, Bryan has provided personal training to me. His programs are customized for his clients based on their goals, strengths, weaknesses, injuries, health issues, eating habits and much more. For me, knowing we were preparing for IBCPC in Florence, Italy, I was focused on strength training and building endurance, and Bryan got me there!

Bryan is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his training programs. He keeps me focused, energized, and motivated by changing up my program every few weeks ( he knows I get bored) and is dedicated to all his clients to make it happen. And if Bryan asks, “do you think you have more set in you”…you say YES (you won’t have a choice anyway)!Jo-Anne R.

Bryan Kelly has a studio in Hamilton but also trains his clients remotely. He is able to tailor a workout to his client’s personal needs. In addition, he is an expert in nutrition and can educate his clients on how to make food work for them and their lifestyle.

Bryan can be reached at: 

Email –

Mobile – 905.746.4433

Judy Anne joined Knot a Breast in 2006. She paddled in four IBCPC (International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission) Dragon Boat Festivals, including the most recent festival in New Zealand. When the opportunity to paddle in the New Zealand festival presented itself, Judy Anne knew that she wanted to take part. Having been to three prior festivals (Peterborough Ontario in 2010, Sarasota Florida in 2014 and Florence Italy in 2018), she knew the impact that these events had. According to Judy Anne, the emotional impact and the positive impressions that she experienced at all of the festivals solidified her decision to go. The event brings everyone together and acknowledges how dragon boating has affected us as breast cancer survivors. “When you look around you and see nothing but a huge sea of pink, it’s so emotional in a very positive way.” 

Judy Anne Sleep 

So, it was a little more than disappointing to go halfway around the world for a world championship and then have the races cancelled because of weather.  No opportunity for a final race.  No opportunity to win.  Not that I expected to win…. 

Winning isn’t always about being first in a final race.  I feel like a winner every time I am out on the water – even if it’s at a practice where I’m struggling to keep up.  I’m an average paddler at best, but there is always room for improvement in dragonboating and ALWAYS something to learn.  After 17 years, I am still learning so much.   

There is something about being on the water and I feel so strong on the water.  When that magic happens and your teammates are placing their paddles in the water at the same time and you feel that movement – it’s indescribable.  I know in “the boys in the boat” it is described as “swing”.  They also describe the resiliency of the team;  (I’m not quoting exactly – have changed some of the words “rowing” “him”): 

One of the fundamental challenges in paddling is that when any one member of the crew goes into a slump the whole crew goes with her.  The movements of each of us are so intertwined.   (Page 87)

We need to feel connected and I am so grateful that this team has done this for me.  I am so proud to be a part of KAB and what we have accomplished and achieved together.   

Feeling confident to practice with other teams on my way to the Worlds was something I got from our team.  The team allowed me to move at my own pace and grow according to my skill level at the time.  Since joining the team, I have had three major surgeries (Zenkers diverticulum, two new hips) and this is something that breast cancer survivors often have to go through.  I never felt alone through any of them.  I felt supported and loved by this team and welcomed back when I was ready and able to come back. 

So, I feel that going to New Zealand was a “win” for me, as I felt prepared to be a proud member of KAB. 

Another “WIN” for me is knowing that I belong to the best club in the world.  The partnerships that we have (Warlocks, Tim Hortons, Macassa Bay, to name a few) mean that we have access to practicing and meeting that other teams just don’t have.  We don’t have to drag our boats into water every time we practice.  We have the luxury of changing our clothes (and even a shower) after practices and a washroom !!!  We have a low membership fee and opportunities to fundraise.  We have a voice and can choose to go to open board meetings and even put our names forward to participate as a board member.  There are many people to go to for advice and we have a lot of talent on our team! 

No one told me that it was addicting – that this feeling that I get every time I am out on the water, that I feel connected to my dad (who died 16 years ago) and to my teammates and to God – is something that sustains me and keeps me grounded.    

So that is why I paddle. 

I wanted to add the chant we did in New Zealand. The Maori have a whakatauki saying – “ehara taku toa | te toa takitahi, he toa takitini”. My strength is not as an individual, but as a collective.  

Knot A Breast breast cancer survivor dragon boat team (KAB) has been very busy this winter, both in skills training and in improving our fitness levels. “Zoom” has really been a game-changer for our team during these long months of Covid restrictions! This fabulous platform has allowed us to keep training together the last two years. Tuesday and Thursday evenings we meet online for Live classes led by amazing trainers that range from barbell classes to tabata and yoga. We also get to virtually visit with our “snowbird” teammates who join in to exercise and share their warm weather adventures! Coach Kathy Levy is always in attendance, giving feedback, correcting posture and encouraging the team to keep pushing hard!

“Zoom” has really been a game-changer for our team during these long months of Covid restrictions!

Sundays have meant training at Welland International Flatwater Centre where we practice our technique in the tank and do circuit training in the gym. The flowing water in the tank provides an amazing opportunity to simulate paddling during the long winter!

Our team stays engaged via our private Facebook group page. This winter we focused on challenges to improve our mental health and focus on building healthy habits, like getting outside more and enjoying better sleep. We share recipes, milestones, jokes and encouragement with our team this way.

KAB has definitely been impacted by Covid. We have many new members that have yet to race despite being with our team the last two years! We also have a crew of national champions (Regina, 2019) that have been chomping at the bit to finally get to that international race they earned a berth at!

Knot A Breast is looking forward to getting back on the water to get both our new paddlers ready to race in the Hamilton Dragon Boat Festival, and our performance crew prepared to head to Sarasota in July to compete at the Club Crew World Championships!
However, beyond the races we have to look forward to this season, KAB is really looking forward to Saturday morning practices at Macassa Bay and being Together Again!

During the 2020-21 season, the world COVID-19 pandemic suspended dragon boating, and many of Knot A Breast’s fund-raising activities. We are very grateful to KAB team member and amateur artist, Norma Moores, who turned to art as an alternative activity and then turned her artwork into an opportunity to raise funds for our team. 

Norma created the original watercolour painting “Knot A Breast: Finish!” based on a race at the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships in Regina SK in 2019. It captures the front of two dragon boats as they near the end of the race. It depicts the surge of the boats as the drummer and coach, Kathy Levy, calls for power from the 20 paddlers to finish the race. The drummer has the best view of the team’s position in the race; while all other paddlers ‘focus in the boat’. Norma claims that she chose this composition because she did not want to paint 44 arms!

Print of “Knot A Breast: Finish!”

The painting was printed at Centre3 ( in their fine art digital studio in Hamilton on Espon 100% cotton cold press paper. The prints were matted and framed at Corby Custom Framing ( in Carlisle. 

Twenty-eight prints were sold to Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor, Lively Dragon, Welland Warlocks, and Sisters in Sync dragon boat team members along with some to family and friends. $833.54 was donated to Knot A Breast through this fund-raiser including $140 from Milka Vujnovic without a purchase.

KAB member Milka Vujnovic and Don Corby picking up the prints after framing from Corby Custom Framing

The artist, Norma Moores, has been dragon boating since 2011 and joined KAB in 2018. She participated in the 2019 Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships, Regina SK, where Knot A Breast won gold in the Breast Cancer Survivor Category. Norma started watercolour painting in her teens in Nova Scotia, then took courses at the Dundas Valley School of Art before developing a career in engineering and raising a family. In 2020 she returned to painting, and thoroughly enjoys learning from each unique painting she creates.

Norma would like to acknowledge the support of the following individuals:

  • Jo-Anne Rogerson for appreciating the artwork and encouraging Norma to make her first ever artists prints.
  • Milka Vujnovic for moving ahead with the framing part of the fundraiser, delivery, pick-up, sorting and distribution.
  • Alex at Centre3 who ensured that the artist prints were top quality.
  • Don at Corby Custom Framing who was pleasant, efficient and generous in framing the prints.
  • Don Wood for taking the original picture that captured this moment.

And to those who bought a print, thank-you for supporting Knot A Breast. We hope you feel the power of “Team” every time you look at it!

KAB members Rebecca Walker (left) and Carrie Brooks-Joiner (right) receiving their prints with artist, Norma Moores (middle)

The Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team (KAB) is made up of a very diverse, interesting group of women who come from all walks of life. Our team members are all wonderful examples of survivorship, athleticism, resilience and camaraderie. We have team members who have been with the team since its inception in 1998, and women who have yet to race due to two seasons of Covid restrictions. The common denominator among us is the critical diagnoses we have faced, and the commitment we have to improving our health outcomes. The Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team challenges its team members to move forward, physically and mentally, both within our lives and in the dragon boat. Each woman has experienced different twists and turns in their personal stories, and have faced different challenges.  Our founder and coach, Kathy Levy, takes these often broken pieces, and somehow puts them together to form a successful team that continues to challenge itself, year after year. 

Today’s post represents the first in a series of interviews with current members of our Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragonboat Team. The first interview I would like to share with you is with Geraldine Schweinbenz, fondly known as “Geri” to those of us lucky enough to know her.

A Little Bit About Geri:

Geri was born June 7, 1962 and grew up here in Hamilton where she feels blessed to live in her childhood home that she shares with Bailey, her beloved 19 yr old cat adopted from an Animal Rescue. Geri has enjoyed a long 32 year career as an X-ray technician with Hamilton Health Sciences. However, like many currently working in healthcare, this pandemic has really turned her work life upside down! The ongoing stress and demands of work life has really cemented her plans to retire in December, 2022.  She is looking forward to both retirement and kicking off her bucket list!

Geri contributes to her community through a lot of volunteer work.  She has been a Big Sister. She is a member of the Optimist Club of Hamilton. She has volunteered with Dreams Take Flight, chaperoning sick and disadvantaged children to Disney World on 24hr whirlwind adventures. The last few years her extra time has been devoted to our team. She is currently the Newbie Coordinator (providing info and welcoming all the new people to our team) and a dedicated member of our fundraising committee.

In May 2012, Geri was diagnosed with Stage III Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She had a lumpectomy, 6 rounds of chemo, lymph node dissection surgery and 8 weeks of radiation. Geri developed lymphedema in her right arm (an often painful condition) that she manages by wearing a compression sleeve, especially when paddling. This past year, in December 2020, Geri had further reconstruction and reduction surgery.

Geri first heard about the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team from her chemo nurse while receiving treatment. Geri recognized she needed some support in figuring out what her “new normal” was going to be after treatment. She wanted to get back into shape and feel strong again! She joined the Knot a Breast team in February 2013 after completing her treatment and has been busy training and paddling ever since! The last eight years have included participating in many regional dragon boat festivals and also traveling to compete in both national and international events with the KAB team. 

Our Interview:

Geri being interviewed on my porch, Sunday Morning in June, 2021.

Geri is beaming when she shows up for her interview on this sunny, Sunday morning.  We settle in, with coffee and snacks in hand, on my front porch.  We are both excited to be visiting outside, after so many months of isolation! Geri maintains her positive outlook as we discuss the hopes of returning to dragon boating. At this point in the pandemic there is not a path for that return. We are continuing to train together on Zoom and get out on OC1s weekly. 

JK: So, Geri, what were you like in highschool?

Geri:  I was quiet and shy. I loved sports, esp. basketball and volleyball. Always liked team sports, but I was never really good at it. I have played and enjoyed sports all my life.  However, Knot A Breast was the first team I was ever competitive with.

Geri goes on to tell me about enjoying growing up in “the Hammer” (Hamilton) and wonderful summers spent at her family cottage. Geri would be considered “seriously low-tech” by millennial standards, and has only basic cable at home. She doesn’t read much, blaming the years of university for “ruining that” for her. (I laugh). She does love murder mysteries like Murder She Wrote and the series Blue Bloods. Geri would definitely be considered a classic kind of gal!

JK: All right, I actually know the answer to this, but I’m gonna ask you anyway, if you went home and found out you had just won $1 million, what would you do?

Geri:  I would for sure give money to my family, my siblings. Some of my nieces and nephews, I would give them some money and Also give money to some of the charities.

JK: GERI!!! YOU said you would fix up your place! 

Geri agrees that she would ALSO do that as I tease her that “the minute she got it, she was giving it all away”! She laughs and reconsiders her “sudden windfall” plan.  She really Would like to fix up her place, pay off her debts, retire ASAP and do some travelling!  I promise to remind her of this if she actually DOES win the lottery, before she gives it all away to the causes and people she loves!

JK: Geri, If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

Geri: Chicken wings. Medium barbecue. Breaded! I love Red Rockets. Yeah, chicken wings and a beer. I like Cracked Canoe….the Moosehead version of Coors Light.  

Seriously, Geri? Chicken wings are pretty delicious, but “last meal worthy”? I think Red Rockets has just found their newest ambassador!

Geri enjoying her Cracked Canoe
with Leslie Williams and Lynn Youngman, 2019.

JK: What’s your favorite season?

Geri: Definitely Summer. When I was a kid we spent our summers at our cottage on Georgian Bay, and we would be outside playing and swimming all summer. The cottage was built by my grandparents, when my mother was a small child, and we still have it in our family today.

JK: What are your favorite things to do up there?

Geri: Relax and hit the beach! I get up, have breakfast, put my bathing suit on, and hit the beach! I love getting out on my kayak. I also socialize a lot with my neighbors up there as we all grew up together. It’s a great little community.

Geri tells me that her favorite sport to watch, besides dragon boating, is football. The Hamilton Tiger Cats are obviously her favourite CFL team. However, in the NFL, she roots for the Green Bay Packers all the way!

JK: And who is your favorite athlete?

Geri: I would say one of my favorite female athletes to watch is Jennifer Jones and curling. She’s so good! She has “come through” in some tough spots and she always remains calm and composed. 

I ask Geri if she curls as well. She tried it once and then realized she couldn’t do it with her shiftwork. She has added it to her bucket list! She has also added golf, paddle boarding and more dragon boating to this growing list.

JK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

Geri: That I go up to Northern Ontario teaching in First Nation communities. I am part of a federal program that teaches the students how to take x-rays.  

JK: I think that would be very, very rewarding.

Geri: Yes, Very rewarding. I did go twice a year until I had breast cancer. I learned to ice fish, and learned about indigenous culture and enjoyed a traditional feast. I even attended a grade 8 graduation of only 2 students! I returned from Deer Lake in February, 2020, and a week later we were shut down (by the pandemic) so I haven’t been back since.  I find it very rewarding going up and helping them and so I hope I can continue to do that, even after I retire.

KAB poses at City Hall, 2018. Geri is second from far right (in the N).

JK: What traits do you think are essential to becoming a great dragon boat athlete?

Geri: You need commitment, and dedication. It really depends on what you want and how far you want to go with the sport.  You need to be open-minded because sometimes you may Think you’re going to be here or there on the boat and then the coach says “This is where I want you”.  

JK: Would you call that being “Coachable”?

Geri: Yes, coachable. It’s a team sport so the team always comes first. What’s best for the team. This may not be sometimes what’s best in your mind for yourself but, you know, the team comes first. 

Geri talks about being part of the “Back 6” on the boat.  That means seats 8, 9, or ten. She prefers the right side, but sometimes she gets asked to paddle on the left.

Geri: It’s not pretty. It’s not my perfect stroke. But I do it. I will go on the “other side” for Kathy.

I think Geri would definitely be considered “coachable”. She seems to truly understand and embody what it means to be part of a team. 

JK: What has been your biggest challenge in dragon boating?

Geri: The biggest challenge? Hmmm, sometimes it’s maintaining a fitness level. I will never ever be the strongest person on the team or anything like that, or the fittest, I should say. But I’ve never been as fit in my life as since I’ve been on this team. So trying to maintain that. 

JK: Wow. Is that surprising after breast cancer?

Geri:  Definitely. I mean I have played a lot of different sports, and definitely played on a lot of different teams, but this has been the most committed I’ve ever been to a sport. I mean I truly love it. But it’s hard work, and you got to keep at it.

JK: What gets in the way of your best performance on race day?

Geri: When I’m dragonboating, probably work. Sometimes I am so tired from work. Sometimes it’s mental, my head is not in it.  Like when you’ve had a race, and you got out of stroke, and you’re hard on yourself after.  You need to remember that That race is done and you can’t relive it. You need to let go and get ready for the next race! 

Lynda Benison and Geri modeling new shirts, 2018

JK: Do you have a routine of things you do to prepare for a race?

Geri: I try to go to all the practices before a race. Coach Kathy’s really good at reinforcing that “We practice like we race, and we race like we practice”, and that really helps calm me down because it’s like, “okay, this is what we did in practice”. And that’s why she wants us to work hard and practice, and not to always goof off because it will help come race day. 

Geri shares her “day before rituals” that help her feel good on Race Day.

Geri: I usually eat light. I try to get a lot of sleep, especially the night before, and I’m a “List Person”. So I would make lists of what I’m going to bring to race day, what kind of food I’m gonna bring, and what I will need for clothing and I have it all ready the night before.

I remind Geri that I have personally benefited from her various lists of “what to bring”. I’m very grateful for her lists, and her eagerness to share them with the new team members!

Geri: So I find I have mostly everything ready the night before and then you’re always up early the day of the race because you have to travel, and then it’s less running around and worrying that you forgot something. 

Geri and Shida Asmaeil, GWN 2015

JK: Do you get nervous at the start of a race? 

Geri: Yeah, butterflies are going, and it’s, you know, you just want to do well, you just want to. You get butterflies before every race. It’s not really a sick feeling, it’s excitement. And I just want to do well, I just want to paddle my best. You have to work on your head to get into that mindset I find, and you just have to be positive.

Race Day 2017 with, from left, Aleta Thompson, Kathy Martin and Tracy McInnis. (Geri is second from right).

JK: What qualities do you think make Kathy a great coach?

Geri: She’s dedicated. She is an amazing coach. She works with a lot of individuals on the team that are very different and she is able to bring out the best in them.  And she pushes you. She’s pushed me beyond whatever I thought I could be, and do, as a paddler.  For her to have taken three crews to the last three IBCPC competitions and to have won says a lot.  She worked with different crews each time! So she’s kind of the common denominator.  Her whole heart and soul and everything is into this dragon boating. I want to give her my best performance. That’s all she wants us to do – just try our best. 

KAB practice, 2019.

JK:  How long did it take for you to get good at the stroke? Do you ever truly feel like “I got this!”?

Geri: Oh, I’m still learning. I have an “okay” stroke I would say, sometimes it’s great. Sometimes I think “okay, I’m on”.  But then there’s always room for improvement. So it’s a work in progress. It takes years. 

JK: What advice would you give to other women who are dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis?

Geri: I knew I needed a support group, I knew I needed something, because nobody in my family had ever had cancer really, and there was nobody in my different groups of friends that seemed to relate to what I was going through. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking out a support group. I had never used a support group before in my life but it was the best decision.  That is what KAB has been for me.

JK: And what advice would you give to anyone starting out in dragon boating?

Geri: It would be to just relax, try not to be too nervous or uptight. You will learn the stroke. I know everybody’s probably worried, thinking “I don’t know, I don’t know”, but you Will learn the stroke.  Kathy is a phenomenal teacher, and you will feel comfortable, it just takes time, but it’s well worth it to persevere. When I joined the team, like most ladies, I knew nobody, and that in itself is, you know, is kind of intimidating. I  doubted myself at first. But I just have to keep at it. And you’ll love it, the friendships and the camaraderie. I never thought I could do some of the stuff I’ve done, and it’s amazing. It has been wonderful for managing my lymphedema. It’s great for your health because we try to exercise and to eat healthy. It’s good all the way around, and that’s a huge benefit. 

Geri is so enthusiastic about our team it is contagious. She was the first point of contact for myself and many others when we reached out to Knot A Breast looking for information about joining the team. Encouraging and helpful, she has really made other women welcome when they have started out.

Geri: I just want to add that a lot of my family and friends have come to our races, especially when they are hosted here in Hamilton. They know we’re a team of survivors and they can’t believe how much we laugh and joke, and that we enjoy each other’s company and we just go out and do whatever. And the reality is that breast cancer brought us together. I mean most of us would never know each other.  Our team realizes that you gotta have fun, you got to just “let go of it”. I mean it’s always there in the back of your mind, it’s always there, and every year for my check-up I think about it coming back. But you just gotta let go of that. Dragon boating taught me that I can’t do some of the stuff I used to do, but I still can contribute, and have a good time and have fun. 

JK:  What was your favorite race? What’s your favorite dragon boat moment?

Geri does not hesitate. The International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission (IBCPC) Dragon Boat 500m race held in Florence, Italy in 2018 was her all-time favorite.

Geri: I would say to anybody on the team who’s new, you really need to go to at least one of the IBCPC races. The camaraderie is unbelievable. My first one was Sarasota 2014. That was the year after I joined the team, and you are there with men and women (men also do get breast cancer and some teams have men on them). It is the camaraderie amongst all the team members that makes it a wonderful experience. These events are participatory. They say, “no, it’s not about the win”, but it is, everybody wants to win. When we were in Florence, the New Zealand team was right after us, right from the beginning, and they made it known to us that we were the ones to beat, because we had “won it” twice before.

Knot A Breast in Sarasota, 2014.

Geri recalls how nervous she felt before this race.

Geri: We were sitting in the blocks in Florence, and I was on the right at the back of the boat, and the nerves, butterflies, everything, were going and you know everybody is gunning for you. And all I could do is start praying and saying to myself,  “Okay, just paddle hard. Do what you know you have to do.”. I just kept talking to myself. 

JK: Do you turn “On” or “Off”? Do you go on autopilot, or are you aware and feeling laser-focused?

Geri: Before the race when you’re sitting there and Donna (the steer) is trying to line up the boat with Kathy (on drum), I’m listening but I’m also talking to myself like, “you can do this, you’ve been practicing it, you know what you have to do.”. And also going over the Start. Once Kathy calls: “Ready Ready” we’re down there, hips to the gunnel and ready to pull that first stroke. I then focus only on her and what she’s saying. And that’s all I do, and I never look outside the boat. The team knows that we are in the best hands with Donna on the steer and Kathy in front, and they are gonna do whatever we need to at this point to get us down the lane to the finish line.

Geri explains to me that it’s not all about winning, but that it also IS about winning. That when you know that you’ve trained hard you really want to do your best At That Moment.

Geri: I mean, I’ve always been kind of competitive but not overly competitive. But when you’re in that boat and you’re at the start of any of the races I’ve been in, it’s like, “I want to win, I want to do well.”. 

Sometimes it does not go that way. Geri explains to me that there have been races where the boat falls apart, where the front of the boat is doing a different stroke than the middle or the back and it looks like a caterpillar heading across the water.

Geri: There was a point in that race in Florence where it was like, “Oh my gosh it feels like we are falling back here.”.  But then we dug down and heard Kathy’s voice but also started hearing the cheering from the spectators on either side of the river where we were paddling.  You could hear the cheers growing… ”Go Knot A Breast, Go Knot A Breast!” and it was just like: “Yeah, Come On, Let’s Do It”!  And then, all of a sudden, we felt that little bit of a surge. It was like Magic. And then us women here in the “Back Six” , we always chat a little bit to ourselves, we are all yelling, “Let’s go, Let’s go! Come on, Let’s Go!”.  It is at that point where you are really digging deep and you feel like you’re there for each other. Whether we win, or whether we lose. Whether we come in first or 10th, we are there for each other.  But you know, we all want to try and do it for Kathy.  And then when we crossed that line, everybody on the boat was crying, we were all crying. 

I now have tears streaming down my face hearing the emotion of her story of that day. They did come in first again that day! And what a memorable race to have been a part of, in Florence, Italy no less! 

Geri’s favourite dragon boat moment.

Geri: It’s a wonderful feeling. This feeling that I am doing something that I never, ever, thought I could do after having breast cancer. It’s not the death sentence I first thought it would be. I don’t want to say “death sentence”, but you know what I mean. I can do stuff, I can contribute.  I’ve come leaps and bounds from where I was. And it’s all because of this team. You do know what I mean, don’t you?

Geri, I do know what you mean. I Definitely know what you mean. But I also see something that would never occur to Geri Schweinbenz, and that is just how lucky our team really is to have her as well.? ❤️?

By: Anne Cahill, KAB member

My story begins when I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia CML in June of 2016. I had just started a daily oral chemotherapy when I received the dreaded “call back” after my regular mammogram and was diagnosed with Breast Cancer as well. I had a lumpectomy and luckily did not require a separate chemotherapy.  I weighed the pros and cons with respect to my ongoing CML treatment and “opted out” of the standard course of radiation.  At that point I decided that the medical team had done their job and it was now My job to get moving, get in shape and show cancer who was Boss!

I had heard about the Knot A Breast breast cancer survivor dragon boat team and their accomplishments but was hesitant to reach out. I called Geri, the new membership co-ordinator, and got some information about the team and how to join but didn’t follow through. I just wasn’t confident that I could do it! Even though I had been athletic in my younger years and loved playing sports, I was intimidated to try a new sport that I had no background in.  Was I too old to learn a new sport? Was I too physically-depleted from cancer treatment to join this team?

By Norma Moores and Carrie Brooks-Joiner, KAB members

The Knot A Breast breast cancer survivor dragon boat team was formed in 1998. The team is now 23 years old and has been represented by a logo of a cute dragon head with a pink ribbon around its neck and Knot A Breast spelled out below it in a rope-like font. This logo was created by Hamilton artist, Conrad Furey, married to coach Kathy Levy’s cousin.

Knot A Breast’s original logo by Conrad Furey

Conrad was born in Newfoundland in 1954 and settled in Hamilton in 1974. He passed away from colon cancer in 2008. Conrad was very fond of Knot A Breast. One of his paintings depicts a dragon boat team and hangs on the ground floor in the Medical Arts Building at 1 Young Street, Hamilton. He created the original logo after talking to the entire original team.

Example of Conrad Furey’s art, Medical Arts Building, 1 Young Street, Hamilton

Story 6 of 6

By Marla Iyer and Kristen Winkworth, KAB Members

I remember it was Sunday at the 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival in Florence, Italy. And it was stinking hot. The port-a-potties were marginally better than they had been the day before. I won’t go into detail… you get the picture.

Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team had two races on the last day of the Festival at which 128 teams with over 3,000 people from 28 countries participated. Somehow, by the skin of our teeth, we managed to nose ahead and win this international participatory event!!

Kristen and I were flying home early Monday morning so we had already checked out of the hotel and had brought all our luggage with us to the venue. KAB member, Anna Candelori, had organized a celebratory dinner (win or lose, we raced our best) for after the races. There was no time to taxi back to the hotel so we all piled into the rented bus and drove into downtown Florence for dinner. We were famished. Ristorante Pizzeria was very quaint (as they all are in Italy!). We had a room to ourselves in the basement. I remember it was blessedly air conditioned… and I don’t even like air conditioning! But it was hot. And we had raced all day.  We were still wearing our race clothes. Again, you get the picture.

Story 5 of 6

By Jacqueline Draper, KAB Supporter

“As we begin to pry ourselves loose from old self-concepts, we find that our new emerging self may enjoy all sorts of bizarre adventures.”

Julie Cameron

Standing upon the banks of the Arno River, watching the kaleidoscope of paddlers in colourful team shirts slicing the water in tandem to the dragon boat drums, are the spectators of this world event. There are 128 Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Teams with over 3000 participants from 28 countries in the 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival, Florence, Italy. These teams represent countries from around the world with athletes who have rigorously trained to achieve a spot on the majestic dragon boat. All the toned, muscular arms paddle in synchronization as they coalesce for a global cause while competing under a flag that distinguishes their country. The fierce determination of the athletes and pulsating excitement of the competition encompasses the banks of the Arno River adorned with hundreds of team tents that comprise the athletes’ village in Cascine Park.

The City of Florence is filled with tourists, team supporters, merchants, and local citizens who have lined the streets to honour the dragon boat participants. The colourful team tents are filled with athletes who globally represent breast cancer survivors; each participant has their own personal story. Areas of Florence are adorned in pink in honour of these survivors and a celebratory Pink Parade of Nations kicks off the event along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The Arno River is filled with dragon boats representing the global nature of breast cancer honouring all those lost to the disease and all who have survived. It is Sunday, July 8th, 2018, second race day of the IBCPC Festival. Upon the banks of the Arno River are the supportive spectators. I am in the midst of this exuberant crowd and it is from this vantage point and narrative view that I provide my perspective of watching the final races on this memorable day.