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Breast cancer survivors stay afloat

Dragon Boat Atlanta paddling group trains for season

POSTED: March 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Dragon Boat Atlanta Spring Clinic Coach Jim O'Dell gives instruction to his crew Sunday morning on Lake Lanier at Clark's Bridge Park as club members get their first practice in months. This morning O'Dell and the crew worked on their starts.

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It’s going to take more than a bout with breast cancer and low lake levels to slow down the paddlers of Dragon Boat Atlanta.

Two dozen breast cancer survivors and supporters participated in a two-day paddle training session at Lake Lanier this weekend to prepare for the upcoming paddling season that runs through November. The survivors and supporters sat in pairs while paddling the waters of Lake Lanier in a 20-seat Asian-style dragon boat, which is decorated with a dragon head and tail for competitions.

Dragon Boat Atlanta director Beverly Booth survived breast cancer and founded the paddling group five years ago to provide cancer survivors an outlet for exercise. She obtained permission from the Hong Kong Association of Atlanta to use eight dragon boats that are housed at Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club at Clarks Bridge Park.

Booth, who lives in Sandy Springs, then joined forces with Turning Point Women’s Healthcare, a clinic that provides support for women in all stages of breast cancer and treatment phases. She said she wanted to help cancer patients to not only survive cancer, but to reclaim their active lives, as well.

"We are showing women diagnosed with breast cancer, they can survive and thrive and exercise," Booth said. "And dragon boating is particularly good exercise for survivors because of the motion involved."

Booth said dragon boat paddling moves paddlers forward, while rowers move in a backward direction.

"Paddlers go forward. We don’t look back where we’ve been," she said,
acknowledging that Dragon Boat Atlanta survivors are taking control of their lives and are moving in new healthy directions through the paddling sport.

Sharon Beckman of Sugar Hill joined Dragon Boat Atlanta nearly five years ago, and is currently the team’s designated steerer.

"(Dragon Boat) has become a big part of my life," Beckman said. "Even though the cancer still could come back, I want my children and grandchildren to remember me as being active and not being a victim."

Beckman said the logs and big rocks that have emerged in the waters near Clarks Bridge Park as a result of record-low lake levels are obstacles she keeps an eye out for while directing the crew.

"There’s always the danger of running into something now. And with less water, we’re closer to the motorized boats, and we can’t go off and stay out of their way like we used to," Beckman said. "I steer for the team on my toes a lot more. I think a lot of people don’t realize their big wake could tip us over."

Booth said that although the low lake levels have reduced the amount of practice water the team can navigate during Sunday practices at Lake Lanier, the group can still paddle the waters safely. She said the team is preparing to compete in an upcoming 5-kilometer race, but is presently practicing for a race in April that will be held in Lafayette, La.

"Absolutely, we’re still coming here," she said. "We have eight boats here. As long as the weather will cooperate, we will paddle."

Beckman said paddling with Dragon Boat Atlanta has been a rejuvenating experience, one that won’t wait for waters to rise in Lake Lanier.

"It’s almost like a healing to be out on the water in the sunshine, laughing," she said. "We all have been in the same boat, literally. We’ve all had chemotherapy or a mastectomy, but there’s still life. So grab hold of it, and be happy."



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