BreastStrokes Compete at World Invitational in Australia

September 27, 2007 - Campus Bulletin

What do you get when you take 2,000 breast cancer survivors, 90 teams and a bunch of 45-foot-long boats?

It's the "Abreast in Australia" world dragon boat invitational for breast cancer survivors, and 14 crew members from the University of Guelph-sponsored Breaststrokes team will be competing.

The team members flew to the land down under last week along with coach Pat Richards, co-ordinator of lifestyle and fitness programs in the Department of Athletics, to prepare for the two-day competition that begins Sept. 28.

"I am sure we will do well," said Richards, who began coaching the Breaststrokes at the start of their second season nine years ago. "Our paddlers make up a great team. They are a little older than other teams, but they have lots of heart and courage and they just keep getting better and better."

Team members range in age from 30 to 83, and a majority are part of the University community.

"We have young mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers," said Beverlie Nelson, who joined the Breaststrokes in 2002, just six weeks after she finished her treatment for breast cancer.

The team was launched about a decade ago by two Guelph graduates, Margaret Brewer and Valerie Powell. Brewer and Powell had paddled with a breast cancer survivors' team in Hamilton and brought the idea to Guelph.

Today Breaststrokes has 25 members. The paddlers who will be taking part in the world invitational being held in Caloundra, just north of Brisbane, include Pat Matz, assistant to the director, of Environmental Health and Safety; Mary Visser Kerr, office secretary at the U of G Child Care and Learning Centre; Myrna Dyson, a 77-year-old student at the University, Guelph graduate Connie Jasinska and Nelson.

The Breaststrokes weren't able to send a full team of 22 to the championships, said Richards, so they will be joined in the boat by members of the Tasmanian team, Nipples on Ripples.

"The names of some of the Australian teams are a bit over the top," said Nelson with a laugh. "We're still trying to come up with a name that will combine both of our team names."

Dragon boat races are a great way to build camaraderie, find support and raise awareness about breast cancer, she said. The exercise of paddling also helps breast cancer survivors combat the swelling and constricted movement often caused by the loss of lymph nodes following treatment.

Being a member of the Breaststrokes takes some commitment, said Richards. During the winter, the team does weight training with her at the Athletics Centre and participates in weekly aquafit and paddling classes in the centre's gold pool. As soon as the ice melts on Guelph Lake, they're out on the water, practising twice a week.

Richards has seen steady improvement in the team over the years. They can cover the standard 500-metre course in 31/2 to four minutes and recently won their division at a competition in Stratford.

But the trip to the world championships is not so much about the competition as it is about "celebrating life," said Nelson.

"We're all winners because we are all survivors of this disease. It's good for people to know that there is life after breast cancer and that it's not a death sentence."

For more information on the BreastStrokes team.

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