You may not know about the links between Dragon Boating and cancer. You may not even know about Dragon Boating in which case, permit me to enlighten you. A sport originally from China, Dragon Boating now takes place all over the world. The boat is wide enough to accommodate 10 pairs of paddlers sitting side by side, a drummer at the front who beats time and a sweep (also known as the steerer) who makes sure the boat goes in the right direction. During races there is a dragon head and tail attached to the boat but these are not usually present during training. There is a distinct technique to paddling but more of that later.
When I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in 2012, I decided that when I was in remission, should I get that far, I would undertake all the new and exciting opportunities which might arise. One that I didn’t expect was Dragon Boating. It came up as an idea through a friend who saw the sport advertised at her local hospital. We made arrangements to try it out and set out for the London Regatta Centre one Saturday morning to meet other cancer survivors in a team called Wave Walkers. It was a meeting which would become important in the scheme of things, not least because the action of paddling helps relieve the symptoms of lymphoedema which I was diagnosed with earlier this year. It’s also a great way to promote well-being for cancer patients and those who have been affected by cancer. There is nothing like a morning out on the water in the company of a team to blow away the cobwebs. What follows is a typical training day for Wave Walkers!
After a challenging week, Saturday arrives which means paddling. Not the roll-up-your-trousers at the seaside kind of paddling but full-on Dragon Boat paddling. Well, maybe full-on is a bit of an exaggeration. The weather is grey and rain threatens but we set off across London with our friend and her daughter. The team is set up for anyone affected by cancer and we are gradually building a good team. We are Wave Walkers and we have ambition! We have 18 people on the boat today and everyone is in good spirits. Mr Mason and I have not been for a while so we do a basic refresher with some new paddlers while everyone else gets warmed up. I am paired with a regular Raging Dragon – the professional arm of our club – and he promises to drag me out of the dock should our boat capsize. This is not something that has happened before but we always have a safety drill beforehand and number off so we each have a buddy should there be an accident.
Our coach takes us through a lot of set-up practice. We wave our paddles about to commands of “One! Two! Stroke!” Part of the problem with our group is that we all like each other a lot and spend a lot of time chatting and ribbing each other. Any comment about how well someone is doing generally meets a chorus of “Ooooh, aren’t you clever?” type remarks. It also helps to know your left from your right and some of the team clearly have issues with this. I mention no names but you know who you are. (Suzannah). We paddle with the paddles the correct way and then paddle with them upside down so we can practice our kick – the leg movement that adds more power to our paddling. During the stroke, you also have to twist your upper body so you are not using your arms to power the paddle – it is coming from your core and the kick. Mr Mason and I are rather challenged by the slipping one buttock off the seat whilst twisting. Well padded though I am, I feel my bottom complaining about such rough treatment. We swap sides during our training so both buttocks get the same workout. It would look plain weird to build up muscle on just one side. We are planning to enter the Vogalonga 2014. It’s a 30km paddle through the Grand Canal in Venice and it going to be a huge challenge for us as a team. None of us is very fit and we are all at different stages of recovery together with our friends and family. We also need new members in the London area so if you like the sound of it, get in touch.
In the morning, I ache in lots of places, particularly the stomach and thighs which, I think, proves I was paddling effectively. I feel my buttocks are bruised, though, and cannot think of any way to find out other than showing them to Mr Mason. He says, after looking, I think, a tad too long that they are fine and unbruised. Clearly my natural padding worked. Paddling has given me a clear head, and I feel quite energetic and enthusiastic. I certainly don’t sit down much on Sunday but that may also have something to do with the pain in my buttocks… Roll on the next training session!