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Sistership Dragon Boat Association launching fundraiser to keep breast cancer survivors in sport

For the past 25 years, the Sistership Dragon Boat Association has been supporting survivors of breast cancer through the team sport of dragon boating.

Competing across Canada, and internationally, the association has been extending lives and providing physical and mental health to women—which, in turn, has helped survivors to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and secondary cancers.

“I remember when I first heard of dragon boating as a new breast cancer survivor, I was totally like, ‘I want to be on this team, I gotta be on this team.’ That to me, it was just, it was a lifesaver,” said Joanie Snodgrass, fundraising chair for the Sistership Dragon Boat Association.

“It honestly changed my life… and it’s a life changer for a lot of people and a lot of people have never been active before, never been athletic before.”

Currently, though the team is, as the association describes it, bursting at the seams. They never want to turn anyone away, but funding has limited the number of members that they can support at any one time.

“We try to raise money on a regular basis in order to subsidize our members because we have to pay for going to venues, flights, bus rides, hotels, and some people just can’t afford it,” Snodgrass said.

“We are growing. Cancer is not going away, breast cancer is not going away, and we’re 80 members strong right now, and I think we’ve got 15 people on the waitlist.”

She said that they don’t want to cap their membership, but there is a limit to what their current number of boats can hold.

“We don’t want to force members that are still benefiting, to quit to allow new members on board. So we want to grow, we want to continue growing, and in order to do that, we need to raise more money,” Snodgrass said.

Upcoming golf tournament is a first for the organization

Sistership is launching a DRIVE to THRIVE golf tournament on Aug. 18, at the Links of Gleneagle in Cochrane.

Currently, the association is looking to sign up tournament and hole sponsors.

Sponsorship packages range from $850 to $3,500, with the $2,000 entry ideal for organizations looking to support a good cause and send a foursome onto the links.

“We’re hoping to sell about 20 of those, that takes care about 80 golfers altogether. We’ve got 144 [spots] to fill, so for the rest we’re hoping for individuals to sign up to golf.”

Individual golfing entry fees are $300 for 18 holes of Texas scramble golf, prizes, pre-golf lunch and post-golf dinner, a hole-in-one chance at a new vehicle, and a pair of Adidas golf shoes.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day up at Gleneagle and Cochrane: Free shoes, free swag, we’re going to try to spoil them rotten,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass said that the tournament idea came about as a result of one of the member’s husbands being really keen on trying a new fundraising format for the association’s silver anniversary.

“We thought this 25th year would be the time to do it, and hopefully it’ll grow,” she said.

“What a great way to get our name more out there in Calgarians’ minds in order to raise our awareness to Calgarians, and to show them the benefit of our group.”

For more information on the golf tournament, and how to sign up as a golfer or a sponsor, see www.sistershipcalgary.com.

Real benefits to survivors

Members are already preparing for the return of Calgary’s Dragon Boat Festival this year, which is set to take place from Aug. 11 through 13 at North Glenmore Park.

They’ve already competed in several competitions, including an ice race on Sylvan Lake in February, and at an international meet in New Zealand.

“We’re even doing it on ice, that’s how excited we are,” Snodgrass said.

The City of Calgary opened the Glenmore Reservoir to training on May 7, and the association is holding its first Calgary training session on Tuesday night.

Exercise, said the association, can reduce the recurrence of cancer by up to 40 per cent, and works to counteract the fatigue that breast cancer survivors face.

Snodgrass said that the real magic of the association is in creating deep bonds between breast cancer survivors.

“Honestly, as a new survivor, when you come on to the team, everybody has this underlying bond that you’ve all been through kind of hell, right? You’ve all faced death, and you just got this,” she said.

“It’s honestly a magical bond. It’s so hard to explain, because we can just sit beside each other, and you just know that you’re there for each other.”

Their team boats also serve as a continuing reminder of those bonds.

“We paddle with our current members, but we’re also paddling with all of our sisters who have either metastasized and passed away or died in some other way. So it does mean a lot. It means a lot for the new people, and I think it’s inspiring,” Snodgrass said.

Sistership also extends those bonds to other Alberta organizations.

“Our sisters, our Breast Friends from Edmonton—their team is called Breast Friends—they are our best friends, too. And our friends from all the other survivor teens across Canada, there’s just this extra bond,” Snodgrass said.

“When we get together, it’s just like ‘stay well.’ That’s all we say to each other just ‘stay well, stay well, stay well.’ Yeah, it’s quite uplifting.”