Robusters rally new recruits

The Robusters are canvassing the area for paddlers and the best news: no experience - with paddling or breast cancer - is necessary.

The Kootenay Robusters dragon-boat team is wrapping up its season with an eye to recruiting more paddlers for fun, fitness, and a little friendly competition.

While Robuster numbers have been robust over the years, in recent months they’ve seen a considerable ebb in participating paddlers restricting the team’s ability to compete and even train at times. As a result, the Robusters are canvassing the area for paddlers and the best news: no experience  – with paddling or breast cancer – is necessary.

“Due to family commitments and non-paddling related injuries the number of paddlers has declined over the years,” said Robuster Debbie LeRose.

The West Kootenay crew require 20 paddlers to race and a minimum of 14 to practice in addition to a steersman, and drummer. The team encourages all ages from teenagers to women in their 80s to come try it out, the only requirements are a good attitude, the desire to join a great social group, with exercise and enjoyment the top priorities.

“We have ladies in their 70s out there doing it, so there’s whole bunch of benefits, the health side, the friendships, and the support,” added LeRose.

Kathy Hanson, a veteran paddler of 12 years, stresses that being a breast-cancer survivor is not a requirement to joining, and with an average age of 62, the team races against much younger paddlers, so an injection of youth would be welcome.

“We just want ladies to come and try dragon-boating, because once people get out and try it, they realize they can do it . . . and you can be any fitness level to start.”

The Robusters dragon-boat team originally formed in 2001 as a group of breast cancer survivors and associate paddlers from Trail, Rossland, Grand Forks, Christina Lake, and Castlegar. They excelled early, placing second in Kelowna’s Breast Cancer Challenge after just one month of training. Since then the team has competed in dozens of dragon boat festivals culminating in a first-place result in the Kelowna festival in 2006 and a trip to the 17th annual Kaiser Permanente International Dragon Boat Festival in San Francisco last year. Most recently the team had a strong fifth-place finish at a festival in Lethbridge in July.

But a team’s success is ultimately tied to good coaching. A serendipitous meeting in a Rossland coffee shop landed the Robusters their coach of 13 years in Trish Ostlund. In the 1990’s Ostlund paddled with the world champion False Creek women’s team, and has brought her expertise, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the Robusters, transforming new and experienced paddlers into a coherent force.

Commitment and training is necessary and for those who want to get in an extra workout or make up a missed practice, the team has access to a paddling machine known as an ergonometer at Fortis in Trail.

“Anybody can phone us and we can take them there and just show them, and they can at least try it before they go in the boat,” said Hanson.

The relationship between breast cancer and dragon-boat racing began in 1996, when Dr. Don McKenzie’s research dispelled the notion that repetitive upper-body movements led to lymphedema, an irreversible swelling of the arm and chest that is a common affliction of breast cancer survivors.

McKenzie studied a group of 25 women who began an exercise program involving dragon-boat paddling, indicating that this type of exercise had no relation to lymphedema.

Soon after, “Abreast in a boat” was born and the number of dragon-boat teams has grown significantly ever since with festivals being held all over the globe, raising funds and drawing awareness that there is life after breast cancer.

The Robusters practice three times per week at Christina Lake, car-pooling and taking turns driving to make it more fuel-efficient and social. Once on the water, time itself disappears with every stroke, the team moving as one, immersed in the scenic and serene setting of Christina Lake.

“It’s really fun, but it’s to get the people out to try it, and a lot of people do work, but they work around it and if you can only make two practises or only make one practise a week that’s okay,” said LeRose.

The Robusters are on the water at Christina every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m.

For more information or to join phone 364-0993 in Trail; Castlegar phone 365-3794; Grand Forks 442-3333; Rossland 362-9644; Christina Lake 447-6169.