Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

June 10, 2005

U of G Team to Compete in Regatta for Breast Cancer Survivors

The Breaststrokes dragon boat team, made up mostly of University of Guelph staff, students, faculty and alumni who have experienced breast cancer, is heading to Vancouver to take part in the 10th annual regatta for breast cancer survivors.

Breaststrokes, which was formed in 1998, will be among more than 60 teams from Canada and a handful of other countries competing in the event June 25 to 27. But, as several team members stress, doing well in the race comes a distant second to other goals, from fun to fitness to emotional support for living with breast cancer and its aftermath.

“Winning is not as important,” said Sylvia Willms, who heads the community services division of U of G’s Hospitality Services and joined the dragon boat team in 2001 after undergoing treatment for breast cancer. “We want to be in the race, but winning’s not everything for us. It’s about supporting each other and having fun.”

Breaststrokes member Myrna Dyson agrees. At 75, she is the third oldest among the paddlers (the 45 team members range in age from 35 to 80). Dyson, who takes courses in geology at U of G, laughs as she remembers her first outing on the water four years ago. Hampered then by an ailing knee, she needed help to get in and out of the boat. But nobody else looked askance. “It’s a supportive group, it’s a family,” said Dyson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. Cancer has claimed the lives of her first husband, her son and a close friend.

This spring, Dyson began working with Breaststrokes coach Pat Richards, co-ordinator of the university’s lifestyle and fitness programs, to become an assistant trainer. She now helps to lead team members during twice-weekly workouts at the Athletics Centre. “Myrna’s got a watchful eye over us all,” said team member Beverlie Nelson, a 1964 U of G graduate who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.

In 2003, Nelson was one of four Breaststrokes members on a national team that competed in New Zealand. Despite encountering four-foot swells that at times left members paddling in the air, Nelson says that trip was “an incredible experience. I’m so glad the rest of our team is going to be able to experience that, the positiveness of it, the strength of the people involved, the encouragement we got from each other.”

Boosting self-esteem among breast cancer survivors is critical, said coach Richards, one of four Breaststrokes volunteers. “I think cancer affects everybody, and I always find it crazy that we can’t figure it out,” she said. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canadian women, with one in nine women expected to develop the disease in their lifetime.

Richards will accompany the team to Vancouver to cheer from the shore. The annual West Coast regatta was launched 10 years ago by Don McKenzie, a U of G physical education graduate who is now a physician and professor at the University of British Columbia. McKenzie has long advocated the use of exercise to help breast cancer survivors.

Apart from the physical benefits, Breaststrokes members say they derive social and emotional gains from their shared pastime. “Hopefully, you can find some good in being diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Willms. “For me, it was finding this team.”

Pat Richards
U of G Athletics
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 52742

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

** Note to media: The Breaststrokes team will be practicing at Guelph Lake June 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and June 13 and June 16 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. They launch from a site opposite the Guelph Lake golf course.

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