“GoPink! DC” Dragon Boat Team

These breast cancer survivors find strength, hope, and friendship in the hull of their boat.
Erin Shaw Street

Each Saturday on the Anacostia River, scores of people take to the water, paddling and rowing in the D.C. sunlight. They’re all there for their love of the sport—dragon boating—and the feeling of gliding across the water while strengthening their bodies. But for one group, their 20-person boat has special meaning.

GoPink! DC is a team entirely made up of breast cancer survivors.

“During cancer treatment I was so tired that exercise was the last thing I wanted to do,” says team member Jennifer Mills, 35. “When I climbed into the boat I knew I could do it, thanks to the camaraderie of the other survivors.”

Dragon boating, which originated in China, requires up to 20 participants to paddle in sync. It utilizes all major muscle groups, with an emphasis on the core muscles, back, legs, and arms. Races are short—typically 250 and 500 meters.

GoPink! DC is one of a growing number of teams of breast cancer survivors who compete in dragon boat races. (There are also teams in Charleston, Atlanta, and Charlotte.)

Each Saturday, the GoPink! DC team meets to practice. No experience is necessary—coaches teach members basic dragon boat paddling.

Paddling is especially helpful to breast cancer survivors who want to regain strength after treatment.

Some, like Mary McComb, 61, hadn’t exercised regularly until joining the team. Although it was challenging at first, the rewards are worth it, she says.

“I feel so much better when I’m moving through the water—it makes me feel capable and powerful instead of the helpless feelings cancer brings.”

Team members range in age from 35 to 61 and come from all walks of life, says Annette Rothermel, who helped found the group five years ago. Some are decade-long survivors; others are still in treatment. Their common goal: to get and stay healthy.

“Our sport is all about paddling in unison. It doesn’t work if we all aren’t moving forward together,” Annette says.

In addition to weekly meetings and competitions several times a year, the group spends time socializing, often participating in fund-raising events to benefit breast cancer charities.

“In a way we’re a floating support group,” says team member Kathy Taber, 56. “We propel ourselves together in the boat and through life, and in the process realize that we’re so much more than the disease that brought us together.”

For more information on GoPink! DC, visit gopinkdc.com.