The event is an open invitation to breast-cancer survivors to give paddling a try at a nearby venue in Clark County
Dee Anne Finken
VANCOUVER — Breast-cancer survivors used to be cautioned against engaging in repetitive motion exercise. The fear was that doing so would lead to lymphedema, the swelling of the arms and upper body that can occur from trauma to one’s lymphatic system.
But that thinking has long gone by the wayside, largely transformed by the research of Dr. Don McKenzie, a Canadian sports medicine physician who in the late 1990s began studying how dragon boat paddling could benefit survivors.
Now, a group of Vancouver-area dragon boat paddlers — a number who are breast-cancer survivors themselves– are inviting others to experience the benefit firsthand.
“Breast Cancer Survivor Paddler Day at Vancouver Lake” will be Sat., Oct. 19, said Paula Zellers, who took up dragon boating in 2000, two years after her mastectomy.
“Paddling,” said Zellers, who is now 78, “gave me a disciplined form of exercise, challenged me to do more than I thought I could, and gave me a very strong support group.”
The 1-3 p.m. event, hosted by the Vancouver-based Catch-22 team, will begin in the boat house at the Vancouver Lake Aquatic Center, on the west side of the lake, at 612 N.W. Erwin O Rieger Memorial Highway, in Vancouver. The center is south of the Vancouver Lake Regional Park.
Local oncologist Dr. Magdolna Solti will discuss the importance of exercise and good nutrition for breast-cancer survivors, followed by an on-the-water introduction to dragon boating.
Laura Thornquist, a Catch-22 coach, said the event is an open invitation to breast-cancer survivors to give paddling a try at a nearby venue, in Clark County. She noted that a woman has a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Furthermore, breast cancer is the most common cancer for women.
Dragon boating for breast-cancer survivors has become so popular that there are more than 200 teams of survivor-specific teams around the world and an international festival held every four years.
“Catch-22 is not a breast cancer-specific dragon boat team, but we do want women to know we have many breast cancer survivors paddling with us,” Thornquist said. The coach said expanding the number of survivors on Catch-22 is one goal so the team can enter a full roster of paddlers in the next international competition, in New Zealand in 2022.
Zellers said paddling with breast-cancer survivors creates a bond that helps promote healing. “When I see another woman who’s in current treatment paddling, I watch to see if she might need to talk with someone who knows what she’s going through,” Zellers said. “It’s a sisterhood.”
She also said dragon boating has also given her an opportunity to travel. She has paddled in four international dragon boat competitions for breast-cancer survivors — in New Zealand, Australia, British Columbia, and most recently, Italy.
Ten Catch-22 members, all breast-cancer survivors, traveled to Florence, Italy, in July 2018, to compete in the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission event.
Zellers and Thornquist said in Florence they connected with other women from all around the world. “We were all there to support one another. Basically, they are all our sisters,” Zellers said.
Thornquist encouraged people attending the Oct. 19 event to wear clothing suitable for outdoor exercise. Wear layers, avoid cotton clothing and plan on getting a little wet. “You aren’t going to go swimming, but it is a water sport, and you’ll likely get splashed some,” she said.
“If you are currently in treatment and don’t feel up to paddling, you can still come and ride along,” Thornquist said. “Just being on the water is a healing experience.”
Event organizers request people confirm they plan to attend.