Sport and support found with Cultus Lake dragonboat crew

Spirit Abreast brings breast cancer survivors together from across the Upper Fraser Valley, and is open to new members

The Spirit Abreast Dragonboat team hits the water for its first practice last year. The team

The Spirit Abreast Dragonboat Team is about to launch its 16th year, and they’re hoping to entice more ladies into their boat.

The team comprises breast cancer survivors from across the Upper Fraser Valley, who paddle regularly in Cultus Lake. Susan Grant is one of the newer members, having joined in 2014. Team members come from across the Fraser Valley to meet up on the lake.

She learned about the group from a poster in the chemotherapy room at a hospital.

“As I was going through my treatment I thought well maybe one day, but it won’t be this year,” she recalls. But she kept it in mind, and as she was going through radiation, nearing the end of treatment, she thought maybe it was possible.

“I walked back up to the chemo ward, wrote down all the information, and went home and phoned them up,” she says. She had had a double mastectomy by then, and lymph nodes removed, but felt she could do it.

But even she surprised herself at how much she was capable of.

“You think, I’ve had all this surgery on this side and I won’t be able to do this,” she says. But it turned out that paddling was exactly what the doctor ordered. While Grant had never been an athlete, she took right to the watersport.

It helped that everyone on the team had been through very similar, if not exactly the same, experiences.

“You’ve got a built-in support group,” she says. “If you have little aches and pains and tweaks they understand. You’ve got a whole boatload of support.”

And if you’re not pushing yourself hard enough, they’ll support you that way too, she says.

“It’s a great sport that’s for sure,” she says. “Our youngest is in her late 30s, and the oldest now is in her 80s. That’s the captain, we call her Jean the Machine. I’m 50 now and say when I grow up I want to be like Jean, to be as fit as she is.”

They’ve been off for the winter months, but are gearing back up for a busy season that will include three regattas and regular practices. Their first meeting is a meet and greet that the public is welcome to attend.

It’s being held at Decades Coffee Club in Chilliwack on Wednesday, March 29 at 7 p.m.

Grant adds that there’s no reason to be intimidated, and that newcomers don’t even have to paddle. They are invited out onto the water just to see how the sport works and meet the team. There is a small team fee but the paddles, shirts and pfds are all supplied by the team.

For more information, contact Jean Olsen by visiting www.spiritabreast.org.