With a mixture of tears and laughter, over 100 breast cancer survivors tossed their pink carnations into the waters of Skaha Lake, Sunday.
Still seated in their beached canoes, the women’s ceremonial release of the flowers followed the survivors race at the annual Penticton Dragon Boat Festival.
Hugging each other and reaching hands across to their neighbouring competitors, the ritual followed the recital of the lyrics of the Garth Brooks song, The River.
Over the years those words have become the unofficial anthem at similar breast cancer survivor events.
The chorus is:
Yes, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry.
“It really is a very emotional time (survivor ceremony)” said Survivorship co-captain Donna Walker who was diagnosed with the disease in 2005.
“It’s that time where you remember people, mothers and daughters and sisters who had breast cancer before, and you remember members of the team who are no longer with us.”
But in spite of the sadness of losing friends and family, Walker stressed the importance of maintaining a positive outlook.
“You hear about some support groups where people get together and they sort of whine about things but when you’re in a group like Survivorship, we don’t sit and talk about cancer, not at all,” she said.
“There is such a camaraderie between the breast cancer survivors, we all support each other, it’s a sisterhood.”
The Penticton team this year finished in second place behind their “friendly” arch rivals from Edmonton.
“They’re (Edmonton) wonderful girls but we want to keep our name on our trophy,” said Walker.
One of the more than 2,000 paddlers at this year’s 13th event was a Summerland man, who received special recognition.
At age 89, Otmar Laehrm of the Penticton Golden Dragons, was the oldest participant.
“My friend in Summerland got me to join and I enjoy the camaraderie and it’s just nice to get out on the water,” said Laehrm, who also does some baking for team socials.
When asked about how the Golden Dragons measured up against their opponents he laughed and replied: “Competition? What competition? When your average age (of the team) is 72 and you battle against 25-year-olds there is no competition. We just try to improve our time.”
At this point he has no plans to hang up the paddle any time soon.
“I’m just going to keep going as long as I can,” said Laehrm.