Puff go the Magic Dragons

Works of Art

The Dragon Boat Festival in Florence of Breast Cancer Survivors has ended and we are dearly missing these wonderful women, so full of energy, courage and spirit. Living up to the motto of  the IBCPC- International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission – ” Never stop trying, never stop believing, never give up and Paddles up!”  Over 121 Teams and supporters made up the 4,000 participants from more than 18 countries  with the Festival area  a blaze of pink and colourful Team shirts and costumes.

Many Teams had a composite of members, sometimes not even from the same country, to guarantee there was a full boat of 22 as not everyone could afford the trip or time off from work and family commitments. But that never stopped their amazing comradeship and caring sisterhood. After all they were not here to win as they are already winners just by being alive! A mixed age group of young and old and some with obvious signs of post cancer or relapse and various disabilities associated with age,  But there was no stopping them, even under the hot July sun and 33+ degrees heat.

Dragon boat Festival AmbassadorsIt was an honour and loads of fun for us bilingual Ambassadors to be welcomed by the Teams with open arms, assisting them in wading through some of the logistics and daily issues that arose during the Festival,

And the City of Florence became aware of their presence as they paraded from the Pitti Palace across the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Vecchio in a lively multicoloured procession, chanting,  singing and waving to the crowds.

The next day they were swapping Team pins and trinkets between the various stands. Participation was the key word rather than winning as they caught up with friends from previous Festivals and made new ones, even Paddlers for Lifeamong some of us working as volunteers or Ambassadors for Teams. Their sense of humour was infectious and Team names were no exception in capturing their fighting spirit – ‘Missin’ Mammaries, Dambusters ( Dragons Abreast Melbourne), Mammoglams, Breast of Friends, Boobops, Wonder Woman’s Warriors….!!’  To name just a few.

Before the races many had the chance to paddle from the Private Canoe Club at the Uffizi under the Ponte Vecchio, giving them a whole new perspective of paddling the Arno river and a great photo opportunity since the races would be held way downstream. Afterwards they couldn’t resist a Team song and I couldn’t resist a paddle!

Dragons warm upThen it was time to warm up for the races at the Cascine Park, each Team having it’s own style and often bopping along to the loudspeaker music.

Into the marshalling area and down to the embarkation pontoons. Five teams each race, paddling up to the start and racing down 500m. No easy feat steering and paddling and an absolute Dragon Boat racinginspiration to watch and cheer them on! Two days of continual racing and these fabulous ‘Dragons’  never let up, with hugs of joy and encouragement, sharing the thrills and spills right till the end.

And then the most moving ceremony as closure to this wonderful Festival when the dragon boats locked together as a raft on the river and thousands of women and supporters lined the river bank and threw a flower in memory of those who never made it. Such an emotional farewell as they swayed to the music, arms locked together amid smiles and tears on tears…… Something that will remain in my heart forever.

As we all moved across to the Park for the final farewell speeches a French Team kept us entertained…..There is nothing that will stop these women and I have nothing but admiration for what they do and think I will need to take up paddling! The Dragon Boat Festival 2018 will live on in our memories and we wish all the best to these fantastic Dragons!


 

 

 

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Dragon Fever in Florence

Dragon Fever has spread amongst the population of Florence as the place prepares for the Dragon Boat Festival 2018. It’s the first International festival for breast cancer survivors  to be held in Europe and the Florentine organizers from ‘Firenze in Rosa’    (Florence in Pink) have been working non-stop to coordinate  preparations for the event.

Bilingual volunteers were called upon from the expat communities in January, which  dragged loads of us out of the woodwork to be ‘Ambassadors to a Team to ensure they have all the information and assistance they need to make their stay in Florence and their participation in the event a successful one. Meetings and emails have continued to circulate ever since as we begin to know our Team members and travelling supporters and answer their various queries. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when we saw the uniform included shorts…..as many mature age volunteers are not ‘shorts’ people!?

Fierce Dragon boat waiting for paddlersAnother massive call to the general community for other volunteers to help at arrival/departure, registration time,  people traffic control, assembling tents, manning Red Cross boats, medical services on land, embarkation and debarkation….the list is endless. And delighted to see a large group of African refugees volunteering and much appreciated since they are strong young men, speaking French, so can handle more of the physical jobs and translate for the French speakers.

Florentine dragon boat team +supportersOver 4000 participants from around the world – a major participation from Australia of 900, America, Canada, some South American countries –Argentina and Brazil, many European countries with single teams and 1 Team from Singapore.

I had never heard of it, nor even knew what a Dragon Boat looked like and it has been a fun time understanding what the Festival is all about. An amazing bunch of courageous women who have survived breast cancer and showing their strength and vitality in paddling Dragon Boats – that has to be an inspiration to us all!

There are 22 team members per boat – 20 paddlers, a drummer to keep the paddle rhythm and the ‘sweep’ or  steerer standing at the rear of the boat.

Last Saturday Florence held it’s own Dragon boat festival which was something of  a test run to the major event to be held in the first week of July. It was on the Arno river next to the Cascine Park which is the largest green area of the city and a favourite place for joggers, cyclists and dog walkers.

Dragon boats were off loaded and the various teams began warm up exercises before Dangerous launch of a Dragon Boatlaunching, somewhat precariously, these sleek long boats onto the Arno.launching Dragon BoatTeam warm up

 

Dragon Boat judges from LILTThese teams were mixed sexes and not necessarily breast cancer survivors however the judges of the event were the pink ladies from LILT  – Italian League for the Fight against Cancer, and it was a fun day. Lots of hilarity, the rhythmic  ‘tum, tum, tum…’, a few lost paddles and a couple of wet paddlers!

I am excited about the coming Dragon Boat Festival and looking forward to meeting my Dragons’  from Dragons Abreast Team Inspiration…..and of course will be doing a follow up blog after the event.


 

 

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