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Breast-cancer survivors triumph on first day of Slay the Gander

GANDER, NL — After more than a year of planning, 83 breast-cancer survivors gathered in the gentle morning mist around Little Harbour, near Gander, for Slay the Gander.

Together, the dragon boats pushed out and began to make their way across the glass-like water, quickly disappearing into the mist as they paddled towards the Silent Witness Memorial.

Although the paddlers have all been touched by cancer —the average age of the participants being 62 years old — the dragon boaters completed the 13-kilometer trek in less than three hours.

Carole MacLeod, President of the Cape Breastoners, said this morning’s launch was unlike anything she’d ever experienced.

“When I came down the hill and looked down over the water and saw the haze, the fog, it was breathtaking,”said MacLeod. “And then to get into the boat and actually slip into the mist…it was the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had.”

Furthermore, MacLeod noted the importance of the physical challenge. She said that as survivors, it was rewarding to test and meet their goals following a fight with cancer.

“We’re alive. We’re doing something that we’re probably never going to do again and we’ll have this memory forever. We’ll be able to look back and say we slayed the Gander,” said MacLeod.

Joanne Power, the chair of the Central NL Dragons and one of the event’s chief organizers, said tears were streaming down her face during launch.

She said she was happy to see all the planning pay off but it highlighted the loss of Brenda Reid, a dragon boater from the Central team, who died before she could participate.

“It was a really emotional time because we had lost Brenda Reid and this is the type of thing that she would enjoy,” said Power. “I so wish she could be here.”

To honour Reid, the whole camp has been dubbed Camp Brenda for the duration of the weekend.

Although Power was touched by the morning’s beauty, it wasn’t long before the work began; there’s no slacking in a dragon boat.

“When we sit in that boat, you forget everything. You have to focus and work together,” she said.

Power wasn’t the only one to shed a few tears.

Paulette Noseworthy, from Conception Bay South, said she had to fight tears as they neared the Silent Witness Memorial.

“It’s just important to know that we can do it. Surgery, treatments, they ruin your muscles,” said Noseworthy.

Mount Pearl’s Colleen Field almost didn’t sign up but is glad she did.

“I actually doubted myself and almost didn’t do it,” she said.

However, after receiving encouragement from others, she decided to participate.

Field credits the support from the community and her fellow dragon boaters for helping her improve her self-confidence.

“I felt so welcome right from the start,” she said.

Noseworthy in particular tested herself: she’s afraid of the open water.

“I won’t even go out the bay in a speedboat,” she said.

On this day, though, she had no problem paddling a dozen kilometers across the lake in a dragon boat with her sisters.

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