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nsnLogoLou Moreau, Special To North Shore News

Published: Sunday, October 25, 2009

Almost 15 years after her breast cancer diagnosis, Elaine Downey went to her first dragon boat practice not knowing what to expect.

“There I stood among a group of twenty strangers; there was an immediate bond because we had all survived breast cancer. Our coach, Jan Evans, led us into a full warm-up with music that could be heard throughout the dock. From the moment I stepped into that dragon boat it felt magical. How beautiful and silent the Cove was . . . the water calm and serene.” She recalls watching two team members in front of her, trying so hard to master their technique, and listening intently to the coach’s instructions, which echoed across the water.

Downey is now finished her second season of being a breast cancer survivor dragon boat paddler. Her team, the North Shore Dragon Busters, is the only dragon boat team for breast cancer survivors on the North Shore. Their mission is to raise breast cancer awareness, encourage optimum fitness, well-being, and team participation for those living with breast cancer.

In dragon boating, everyone plays an integral role, from the coach/drummer shouting commands, to the 20 paddlers stroking in time as one unit, to the steersperson at the helm guiding the boat safely in sometimes challenging situations.

“I am definitely not one who would usually consider going out in a boat — or doing anything that would remotely involve an activity around water” says Downey. “But the camaraderie that has developed with my team has given me the inspiration to go forward in my life.” As an example, she is bravely learning how to swim, which is not actually a requirement.

Her teammate, Liz Burrows, shares these sentiments. She was diagnosed at age 31, with three very young children to care for. Years later, a friend pushed her into joining a breast cancer dragon boat team.

“I was nervous,” says Burrows. “I didn’t know if I could do it . . . I had never paddled before.” She’s never looked back though. “It has been the most fun and rewarding experience that I can ever remember doing. The physical benefits are enormous and now I class myself as an athlete. The love, support, and caring of all these women simply astounds me on a weekly basis. I feel so much stronger physically and mentally.”

Paddling for a breast cancer dragon boat team gives members the added bonus of having the opportunity to become more involved in one’s community by raising awareness and money towards finding a cure for breast cancer. This month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you will find members of the North Shore Dragon Busters giving information and collecting donations for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation at local Safeway Stores.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and you would like to know more about the North Shore Dragon Busters, visit:, or or call Lou at 604-924-2424.

© North Shore News 2009

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