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Fiery friends in the same boat

Three Wairarapa breast cancer survivors are training for the International Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival, held at Lake Karapiro next month.

Lindy Daniell, Sandie Fletcher and Kathleen McKenzie [pictured, left to right] will be paddling with the CanSurvive Dragon Boat Club, which has entered two teams in the festival this year.

The festival, held from April 10-16, will welcome close to 5000 paddlers – between the ages of 20 and 80 – from around the world, plus friends, family and supporters.

Dragon boat paddling has become a rehabilitation therapy for thousands of women and men diagnosed with breast cancer. In 1996, Canadian professor and exercise physiologist Dr. Don McKenzie developed a programme to determine the impact of upper body exercise on breast cancer survivors, introducing a group of women to dragon boating and paddling technique. Since then, the sport has grown amonst the breast cancer community, and there are now more than 290 survivors’ clubs worldwide.

Wairarapa paddler Lindy Daniell, a long-time member of the Wairarapa Dragon Boat Club, said the sport can positively impact both physical and mental health.

“Through the strenuous demands of dragon boat paddling, paddlers learn they can push the limits of their physical endurance and have fun doing it,” she said.

“Paddlers begin as strangers with only breast cancer in common. But they grow stronger as individuals and as a group.”

Daniell said about 1 in 9 New Zealand women will be diagnosed with breast cancer – but she believed “awareness of quality of life after treatment needs to be raised”.

“Breast cancer dragon boat teams are living this message. There is a life after breast cancer – an active, fun, powerful, upbeat, vigorous life.”

Sandie Fletcher said her experience of dragon boating has been “life-affirming”.

“I love that our teams all accept each other where we are. Paddling lifts you up and reminds you of your strength. It gives you back your horizon.”

The Wairarapa Dragon Boat Club welcomes breast cancer survivors and their supporters and can be contacted via its Facebook page.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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