Serendipity is the word that best describes the beginnings of what is now Dragons Abreast Melbourne. In 2001, a couple of months after starting treatment for breast cancer, I was sitting bald headed in front of the computer listening to Dr Norman Swan interview Dr Susan Harris, a Canadian academic, about her work in physiotherapy. At the end of the interview Susan was asked about one of her favourite pastimes - dragon boating.
Susan had experienced breast cancer twice, and was a member of the dragon boat team organised by Dr Don McKenzie to study whether women treated for breast cancer could avoid lymphoedema through a special exercise and training program. She explained that women are often told that one of the outcomes of the removal of axillary lymph glands is the greatly increased risk of developing lymphoedema, and are advised not to carry out heavy duty activities (carrying heavy grocery bags, lifting children, raking leaves) or to engage in strenuous exercise. Results showed unaffected team members did not develop lymphoedema, and those with existing lymphoedema had no exacerbation of the condition. In fact, the outcome was a group of fitter, healthier, happier women. This was the first piece of good news I heard in the breast cancer experience.
After contacting the ABC for her details I heard from Susan that she was to be keynote speaker at a conference in Melbourne. At the same time, I became aware that several other teams had formed around Australia as a result of hearing a Canadian paddler speak at the inaugural Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) conference in 1998. Susan offered to come and speak about dragon boating to the local Hampton support group and 22 women signed up that night to form a team to paddle at the Moomba festival the following year. Dragons Abreast was, then, a group of independent teams that shared the name to show solidarity and was under the umbrella of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).
We began training in November 2001 on the Yarra and were embraced and supported by the Melbourne dragon boat community. The team received publicity through television (a news feature and a feature on Norman Swan’s program, “Dimension”) and in local newspapers. Our first races were the Melbourne International Dragon Boat Festival during Moomba in March 2002, paddling in the Victorian Championships Women’s events. Our times over 500 metres - best heat: 2 minutes 50.64 seconds; we then came 4th in the final in 3 minutes 03.81 seconds! First Bling. Two boats of women proudly wearing their bright pink earned themselves “Best Presented Team” at the festival.
We continue in our commitment to raising the public awareness of breast cancer and travel far and wide to achieve this. We travel with smiles on our faces and a song in our hearts. You can’t miss us, we’re the ones giving it our all and loving it.
The Team would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to Pamela for having the foresight, courage and determination to establish DAM Busters. (previously DA Victoria and DA Melbourne).