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Paddling to Italy

Local club goes international for second chances and full lives

      A group of local breast cancer survivors wants to change the notion of surviving cancer into thriving after cancer. Their method of transformation is the paddle.
      The Annapolis Dragon Boat Club invites survivors and supporters to the ancient sport of dragon boat racing to help them heal from the ravages of both disease and treatment.
     “Dragon boat paddling is restorative in terms of both physical and psychological health,” says club chair Louise Kirk. “The doctor who began this movement discovered that the twisting motion of paddling is incredibly stimulating to the lymph system, and the teamwork required in paddling together is quite beneficial and raises confidence and endurance.”
      The all-survivor paddling team trains year-round to compete in dragon boat competitions up and down the East Coast during the summer and early fall. Next month, the paddlers head to Florence, Italy, along with 129 teams from 17 countries for the four-day International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission Dragon Boat Festival, July 5-8. 
      Organizers say the festival is potentially the largest gathering of athletes for a single athletic event this year, larger even than the Winter Olympics. Each team consists of 20 paddlers, a steerer and a drummer. More than 3,000 athletes will compete, with the Annapolis club the only Maryland team attending.
      “Going to Florence is our reward for doing what we do four times a week throughout the summer,” Kirk says. “We don’t think the definition of longterm survival, which is two years, is long enough. We are determined to take our second chances and make it about leading full lives, enjoying ourselves and helping others take that second chance also. This whole team helps those fighting cancer see that spirit on the water.”
      This is the second international festival for the club, which traveled to Sarasota, Fla., in 2014. 
     The Anne Arundel County Council officially recognized the club’s achievement June 4.
     “The Annapolis Dragon Boat team is an inspiration to us all,” said councilman Chris Trumbauer. “I was honored to present them with a County Council citation to commemorate their world record and give them the Council's best wishes as they head to the international Dragon Boat festival in Italy.”