Who are Breast Friends?

Breast Friends was formed in 1998 so that Edmonton-area women could participate in the world-wide pink paddling movement, which started in Vancouver. Team members range in age from mid 30s to early 70s.  Some have faced cancer more than once. We train together nine months of the year, both in the gym and on the water.

While fun is key, so is competition. We race against other women’s teams and in particular against our peers — other breast cancer survivor teams.  Breast Friends crews have been to festivals across Canada and participated in international survivor festivals in Australia, Vancouver, Peterborough (Ontario) and Sarasota (Florida).

Our Coach

Dot Laing, BCom, MA Exercise Physiology, AFLCA Trainer, and CEP (certified exercise physiologist), is our Head Coach and Trainer. Dot has more than 25 years of experience in the fitness industry. Along with our training committee, she designs and supervises our training regimen at the gym, in the pool and on the North Saskatchewan River.  Her goal is to help us improve our overall fitness, our cardiovascular endurance, and our stroke technique so that we are strong and competitive in the sport of dragon boating!  Ultimately, her hope is that team members value and appreciate the benefits of staying physically active and are motivated to sustain an active lifestyle beyond dragon boating.

What is Dragon Boating?

Dragon boating originated in China more than 1500 years ago. The boats are about 12.5 metres long and are manned by 20 paddlers under the direction of a drummer and a steers person. Races cover distances of 300 to 650 metres and can take 2 to 4 minutes to complete. Dragon boating is the fastest growing team sport in the world.

Dragon Boating and Breast Cancer Survivors

In the past, breast cancer survivors were discouraged from doing any upper body exercise due to concerns about lymphedema, a sometimes incapacitating swelling of the arm. In 1995, Dr. Don McKenzie, a University of British Columbia (UBC) sports medicine physician, and physiotherapist Diana Jesperson began a clinical study. They used the sport of dragon boating as a case study because it requires strenuous repetitive upper body motion.

They found the benefits of exercise both during and after cancer treatment far outweigh any risks.  (See Dr. Don McKenzie’s study “Abreast in a Boat — A Race Against Breast Cancer” from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1998)

In June 1996, Abreast in a Boat, the original study group, made its race debut at the Vancouver dragon boat festival and a movement was born! There are now more than 150 survivor teams world-wide, with at least 41 teams in Canada.

The physical and psychological benefits of survivor dragon boating include improvements to:

  • Post-surgical range of motion
  • Muscular and skeletal strength
  • Immune system
  • Mental health

(Read more – “We’re All in the Same Boat”: A Review of the Benefits of Dragon Boat Racing for Women Living with Breast Cancer by Susan R. Harris, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, June 2012.)

Flower Ceremony

At every dragon boat festival where survivor teams participate there is a Pink Ribbon race, followed by a Flower Ceremony to remember those who have lost their lives to breast cancer, as well as those who are being treated for the disease. This is a very moving ceremony, during which we toss flowers into the water as we remember past team members. In Edmonton, we play the song “The River” sung by country singer Garth Brooks.

Our Team Logo

The Breast Friends’ logo was designed by Ken Jurina. If you take a closer look, you will see:

  • the purple portion of the B represents a couple of different sized breasts.
  • The pink portion of the B represents the pink breast cancer ribbon.
  • The teal portion of the F represents a dragon boat on the water.