A local dragon boater is reaching out in an effort to recruit more paddlers.
Cloverdale resident Neoma Ham is a member of Abreast With FORT-itude, a local dragon boat crew based in Fort Langley. Abreast With FORT-itude is one of six crews across the Lower Mainland that make up the umbrella group Abreast In A Boat.
“COVID has really put us at a disadvantage,” said Ham. “We haven’t been in the water for two years.”
She said because of that, they’ve lost a few members who’ve moved on to other things and they’re encouraging anyone who’s interested to sign up. The only requirement to join their crew is a breast cancer diagnosis.
“We’re looking for new members to join our team in Fort Langley,” explained Ham. “We want to get back on the water in April. Our season runs April to July.”
Ham said being part of the Abreast With FORT-itude dragon boat team has changed her life for the better in so many ways.
“I love it. I absolutely love it. I’ve been part of it since 2010, when I was diagnosed, and it’s a part of me now.”
Ham said she’s not the type of person that thrives in a typical support-group setting. Instead, she needs to be out doing things, staying active.
“I don’t want to sit around and cry. I want to do something about it,” said Ham. “That’s what this group is to me.”
When Ham first joined Abreast With FORT-itude, she knew it was the thing for her. Now she’s beginning her 12th year in the sport.
“It awakened a love for water sports in me,” she explained, “but more than that, it gave me my life back—after my battle with cancer and all the treatments that came with that.”
Ham said her crew is like her family now.
“We take care of each other,” she said. “If someone needs something, the Pink Army—that’s what I call it—the Pink Army comes together and we take care of our own.”
She said the people involved are very giving and compassionate. They help each other with everything, both big and small.
“This crew has seen women through rediagnosis; we bring each other food; we help with child care; we are a support group for sure.”
She said being a part of the team has made a significant difference in her life and she encouraged anyone thinking about joining to come out and give it a try.
“It’ll be the best thing you ever did for yourself after a cancer diagnosis. It was for me.”
Ham explained that Dr. Don Mackenzie started breast cancer dragon boating more than 25 years ago.
“(It was) a research project to debunk the theory that women couldn’t do vigorous exercise after breast cancer surgery, particularly if lymph nodes had been removed. Abreast In A Boat was the world’s first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. There are now over 2,000 breast cancer crews worldwide.”
Ham said her crew practises twice a week, Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings.