I am a Plurabelle Paddler since 2013 after successfully completing treatment for Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. When treatment finished I found it very difficult to get my fitness back. As I had all of my lymph nodes removed from my underarm I had the added issue of trying to prevent myself developing Lymphoedema (lim-fo-dee-ma) which is a chronic swelling that can occur in the arm, chest or back after breast cancer treatment.
Luckily for me I met an inspirational lady called Fiona Tiernan at an Irish Cancer Society survivorship conference. I joined the Plurabelle Paddlers there and then! The Plurabelle Paddlers were the first dragon boat team in Ireland. The team was setup by Fiona, in order to keep fit after a recurrence of breast cancer. A dragon boat team consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a helm who paddle together, in time in a forty foot long canoe. From a membership of 2 in 2010, we now have 60+ active members, a wonderful coach Julie Doyle and 2 dragon boats.
I had never been in a boat before and was a little anxious going out the first time, but with lots of help and encouragement from all the other ladies I ventured out and was hooked!
In the summer we train twice a week, Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings out on Grand Canal Dock in Dublin. During the winter we train on the water on Saturdays and also in our clubhouse on paddling machines some evenings. We compete in Regattas both here in Ireland and abroad. This year I was on the team that took first place in the Breast Cancer section of the 5th International Dragon Boat Regatta held in Grand Canal Dock in September. We competed against teams from Ireland, UK, Italy, Tasmania and USA.
Apart from the fitness and competitive elements of the sport the Plurabelles are a unique group as all of our members have had the experience of Breast Cancer. We are a great support to each other and the camaraderie is brilliant. There is always someone there with support or advice no matter what your issue may be.
Participating in dragon boating also presents great opportunities to travel to regattas both at home and abroad. In Ireland there are annual regattas in Athy, Carlow, Dublin and Portadown. The Plurabelle Paddlers have also travelled to Malaysia, Nottingham, USA, Florence and Spain to take part in regattas and have won medals for their efforts. Regattas are a great opportunity to network with fellow paddlers and breast cancer survivors.
From being the only breast cancer team in Ireland in 2010 there are now seven teams around the country. They are based in Belfast, Carlow, Cork, Clonmel, Donegal, Mayo and Waterford.
So where did this dragon boating start for breast cancer survivors? Don Mckenzie is a Canadian sports medicine specialist at the University of British Columbia, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Director of the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre. In a 1998 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal McKenzie described how in February 1996 he started a dragon boat team for women with a history of breast cancer, which the women chose to name Abreast in a Boat. He believed that this activity would benefit breast cancer survivors as it provided strenuous upper body activity in an aesthetically pleasing and socially supportive environment.
“When you push off from the dock we are all in the same boat. This isn’t about cancer anymore it is about exercise and health and the rest of your life. When we push off we are paddling away from breast cancer.” Don McKenzie
For me dragon boating has opened up a new way of regaining and maintaining my fitness as part of a supportive and fun group of ladies. For more information on the Plurabelle Paddlers see our website at www.plurabellepaddlers.com