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.
It 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 among 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!
Then 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 inspiration 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!