Maureen Lutz remembers the first time a group of Penticton area breast cancer survivors struggled to carry their 800-pound dragon boat into the water of Skaha Lake.
It was the year 2000 and a group of inexperienced paddlers had decided to form a dragon boat team under the direction of newly-hired coach Don Mulhall.
Lutz said the first few times this group of 20 women managed to get their craft out of the boatshed and down to the water, it was quite a spectacle in itself, turning heads of passersby. Being the first dragon boat in Penticton, others were just as mystified about what they were doing out on the water.
“We were just a bunch of middle-aged ladies out on the boat, trying to pretend we knew what we were doing,” she chuckled. “None of us knew what we were getting into. All of us were beginners, so we kind of stood out.”
The Survivorship experience grew from there, in tandem with the sport of dragon boating. There are now 10 dragon boat teams in Penticton.
Survivorship has since become one of the best known Dragonboat teams in the province and donates to charities promoting women’s health issues.
This includes a $30,000 donation to the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation’s campaign to provide medical equipment for the new tower at Penticton Regional Hospital.
Lutz recalled her initial response to the call for breast cancer survivors interested in dragonboating.
“I went the next night. ‘I don’t have a clue what I’m getting into,’ I said to my husband, ‘but I’m going to go and find out.’
“For most of the other women there, it was the same thing.”
Teammate Carol-Ann Browne, the team’s treasurer, said Survivorship now has 35 members and provides a key element of support for those who have battled breast cancer.
“When I was finishing my treatments, if it hadn’t been for Survivorship, I would have stayed home and felt sorry for myself,” Browne said. “Now I feel I’m healthier than I’ve ever been thanks to this group of women. They were my inspiration.”
The annual Penticton Dragon Boat Festival includes a separate category for breast cancer survivors. Many people consider the emotional Sunday morning carnation ceremony to be the highlight of the three-day event, as hundreds of breast cancer survivors wave carnations in the air, in memory of those who have passed away.
This message is never lost among members of Survivorship.
“We go back to our mandate. It’s not to win — although that’s lovely — it’s to show women there’s life after breast cancer (diagnosis),” Lutz said. “The camaraderie is so important and the support as well.”
At times, some people may question who gets to paddle in an important race. Lutz recalled one member of the Survivorship crew in last year’s festival who had been unable to practise much with the team during the season.
“I remember going to the back of the boat and helping her out and asked: ‘How was that?’ She just grinned from ear to ear and she said: ‘That was wonderful!’”
That team member passed away just a couple of months later.
Browne said donating to the PRH tower campaign enables Survivorship members to leave a legacy for future generations.
“The community has given us so much, with our treatments and their support for our dragon boating. Now we can give back,” she said. “I see this as our legacy.”
Survivorship puts aside 10 per cent of their total annual revenues to make donations to local organizations that assist women’s health.
It hosts an annual golf tournament in Summerland in May and runs the beer garden at the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival in September. Their newest fundraiser is the Boob Tour Comedy Show, which attracted a sold-out audience and raised about $5,000 last October. The show will be back for a second year this fall – Oct. 6 at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.