The Pink Piston Paddlers have just returned from attending the International Breast Cancer Participatory Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy.
Twenty two breast cancer survivor paddlers and 15 supporters from the Shuswap, Prince George, Campbell River and Vernon joined to paddle together in the largest female athletic event in the world.
This festival was founded by Dr. Don Mckenzie of Vancouver, a leading researcher of exercise as a form of breast cancer rehab.
Canada has hosted it twice (the inaugural in Vancouver, 2005, and in Peterborough, 2010). The Pink Piston Paddlers attended the festival in 2007 in Coloundra, Australia.
2018 was the first time the paddling event was held in Europe.
One hundred and 20 teams from 18 countries with 4,000 participants converged at the Cascine Park (formed in 1700s) in Florence.
Val Bradley of Sorrento, as the oldest paddler from Canada, received the honour of being the flag bearer for Canada during the closing ceremonies on July 8.
Blair Acton, who joined the Pink Piston Paddlers as a supporter, says, “It was a pretty amazing experience. One of the things done at a breast cancer festival is the flower ceremony, where boats are wrapped together while a song is played; after a minute of silence, flowers are tossed into the water. It can be pretty emotional, especially for survivors.”
Aside from the flower ceremony, which included 4,000 participants this year, Acton says the most memorable experience was their trip to Venice.
After the festival, six members of the team were able to paddle the canals of Venice with the Pink Lioness team.
“We were passing by all the gondolas, the locals are very jovial and friendly when you paddle by,” she said.
One of the highlights of the trip was the Pink Lioness’s amazing club house, which is in a 700-year-old salt warehouse. The Pink Piston Paddlers appreciate the efforts of Deanne from Vernon for arranging the trip.