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Edmonton breast cancer survivors turned dragon boat racers headed to New Zealand


A team of friends and breast cancer survivors are headed to New Zealand in April to represent Edmonton in an international dragon boat racing competition. 

The uptake of dragon boating by breast cancer survivors began in Canada in response to previous advice that survivors should avoid upper body exercises to prevent lymphedema. British Columbia experts proved in a clinical study using dragon boating that exercise during and after treatment is more beneficial than harmful. 

Edmonton's team – called Breast Friends – was formed in 1998 to join the movement.

The team headed to New Zealand consists of 23 women, while the club has more than 70 members, all of whom survived breast cancer.

Colleen Hemsley learned about the team while receiving treatment. 

Unable to walk at the time, she thought joining was impossible – until, one day, it wasn't. 

"One of the things that I did when I crawled out of that boat after that first race – out of breath, out of wind, out of energy – I went, 'Yes! I did that!'" she recalled during an interview with CTV News Edmonton. 

On Saturday, the team was pressing in the indoor paddle tanks at the Leduc Boat Club. 

This year will be the first time the Edmonton women compete in the paddle tanks event. 

"What it does is simulate the actual paddling action as if you were in a boat, finding that hard water that you need to find and moving through it," explained club president Shannon Turgeon. 

"It's a tough sport. It's an intense sport, but the camaraderie is just phenomenal," teammate Alison McIntyre said. "I love going out to places with these girls. It's just fabulous." 

That same sentiment was echoed by Hemsley, who when she found the team, found a support system in and out of the water. 

"We are here to support each other, to help each other, because we know the journey that we, ourselves, have gone through. And we know that each and every person has gone through a similar journey."

The 2023 IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival runs April 10-16. Two hundred and forty teams from 30 countries will compete. 

With files from Miriam Valdes-Carletti Top Stories

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