Life is but a dream for the Clonmel Dragon Paddlers

The CRC - Dragon Paddlers on their maiden voyage on the river Suir recently
Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

A new sport has recently come to Clonmel and in addition to attaining a level of fitness, being a team player, and enjoying the river, there is a more unusual connection - members of the team are breast cancer survivors.

The CRC-Dragon Paddlers enjoyed their maiden voyage on the River Suir recently, following three months of upper-body exercise on dry land, and already they are taking to it like ducks to water.

One of just three breast cancer dragon boat teams in the country it is believed, this is the newest activity that individuals from the CARE cancer support centre on Wellington Street have become involved in. They enjoyed their maiden Suir voyage in their beautiful boat - kindly donated by someone preferring to remain anonymous - just a few weeks ago. They were first introduced to the concept while attending one of their regular meetings at the CARE centre.

Breast surgeon Dr Tino Castiniero, a member of Clonmel Rowing Club - where the dragon boat will be housed - was one of the instigators of bringing the sport to Clonmel, along with physiotherapist Roisin Kiely, explained Marie Murray from Grangemockler.

“Dr Castiniero came up with the idea for us, he had seen it before and saw how beneficial it could be for breast cancer survivors, and contacted CARE, proposing to set one up here,” said Mrs Murray, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

Dragon boat paddling for breast cancer survivors came about following a study by Dr Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician in Canada, who wanted to see if the theory that repetitive upper body exercise in those treated for breast cancer, caused a condition known as lymphoedema, a chronic swelling of the arm.

An initial group was closely monitored as it followed a special exercise and dragon boat training programmes and it was found that no new cases of lymphoedema occurred and no existing cases worsened. The first breast cancer dragon boat team, Abreast in a Boat was formed and now there are close to 200 teams all around the world. The Plurabelle Paddlers in Dublin were the first in Ireland and Clonmel was not too far behind.

“For three months we were doing upper-body training in the centre under the guidance of the doctor. When you have had breast cancer you would have limited use in either the left or right arm, or both,” said Ms Murray. This happens because the lymph system can become blocked or damaged following treatment - surgery or radiotherapy - of the breast cancer.

Following her treatment, Marie heard about the CARE centre in Clonmel and decided to give it a go.

“There is reflexology, reiki, a room for reading, art, jewellery making, all treatments free of charge and everyone was in the same boat,” said Ms Murray. And in the same boat is precisely where they plan to stay.

Their first outing on the Suir was overseen by members of the Irish Dragon Boat Association (IDBA), who travelled to Clonmel to provide training to members of the CRC-Dragon Paddlers. It was the first time that they set eyes on their dragon boat and there were some nerves, according to Ms Murray.

“It was our very first time seeing and getting into the boat, I had never been in a boat before, we were a bit apprehensive I suppose but we had the members from the IDBA, as well as the doctor and physio, so we were alright.”

“It is great exercise and you get some buzz from it,” said Ms Murray.

She said she was shocked to hear recently that one-in-four marriages fail, after breast cancer, and said the message they want to send out to people is that you don’t have to be sitting at home on your own, you too can get out there.

“It has made a difference, socially Thursday night is boat night, and you have a goal now too,” she added.