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Overcoming breast cancer and training my dragon ...

Monday, 15 September 2014 15:06:00 Europe/London

post breast cancer exercise guest blog post

We are delighted to welcome to a truly inspirational guest blogger to the Suburban Turban blog - Deryn Howard, founder of Wave Walkers, London's first dragon boat team devoted to those who have been affected by cancer. 

Let me take you on a journey. It is 5 o’clock in the morning and the sun has already risen in a clear blue sky, the streets and canals are still and silent. My friend and I are up and ready to go, our bags packed for the day feeling a mixture of anxiety and excitement.  We are in Venice to take part in the Vogalonga, a 30 km journey through the canals, Laguna and islands of Venice. Over 1800 ‘people powered’ boats are going to take part! It is a protest against the damage caused to Venice by motorised boats and it is the 40th anniversary.

WaveWalkers - Vogalonga Venice 2014

How to train your dragon - WaveWalker style!

How did I get here?

Let me explain how I came to be in Venice preparing to take part in this exciting event! In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent 18 months of treatment. When I reached the other side of all the treatment, I wanted to get fit again. I had been doing my arm exercises religiously (‘combing the hair’ etc.) and had also taken part in a 6 week cancer transitions programme at my hospital Barts, which included a schedule of exercises. This helped rebuild my confidence, but when this finished, I wanted to continue exercising within a supportive environment. 

chemo scarf headwear Deryn and her sister

Deryn with her sister Mell looking trés chic in the pub

I’d heard that dragon boating is very good for people who’ve had breast cancer and tried to find a team in London and much to my surprise I couldn’t find one. I posted on the Breast Cancer Forum, which initially met with a resounding silence. A couple of months later I received an email from a woman called Ciara, enquiring if I was still interested in dragon boating as she wanted to set up a team up with her partner Eddy. They had both been affected by cancer within their families and were very keen to set up a team to support people who had also been affected by cancer.

Full 'steam' ahead

In May 2012, I started dragon boating just over 1 year after my active treatment finished. (I had started swimming prior to that, swimming 40+ lengths, about a month after finishing radiotherapy.) There are women in the team who paddle with us who are 3-6 months post treatment. Erring on the side of caution though, I'd advise anyone planning to join a team to speak to their specialist nurse, physio or doctor beforehand. We always support our new paddlers not to push themselves harder than they feel able to do, whilst building up their strength. I joined a newly formed dragon boat team, set up for people who’d been affected by cancer. This sport is very popular with breast cancer survivors, but it was decided that our boat would be all inclusive, those who had had any cancer not only breast cancer, their family, friends and supporters. We gave ourselves a name, Wave Walkers and from small beginnings, the team has grown and thrived.

30 KMS! You must be joking!

It was the Autumn of 2013 and we were having lunch after a training session and we started talking about trying to find an event we could train for, to give us a focus. Ciara, our coach mentioned the Vogalonga, the 30km event through Venice. Initially we laughed at the idea as we could barely paddle 20 strokes without asking for a rest, let alone contemplate paddling 30 kms!! But by slowly building up core strength, working on arms and legs, and of course swapping sides halfway through a session to keep our bodies balanced! Training through the winter and spring, in all sorts of weather conditions hail, snow, and a little sunshine too - you name it we paddled in it! We made it to race fitness AND in the process I fully recovered my range of movement on my affected arm/side. June 8th arrived and we did it! - we paddled over 30kms, surrounded by the majesty of Venice, a spectacle of colour and activity, as part of a flotilla of hundreds of boats and boards. It was stunning! At one point all you could hear out on the water was the sound of paddles and oars, not a motor to be heard. Finally all our planning and training had culminated in successfully completing the race and taking part in this amazing event, in the truly beautiful city of Venice.

Why not come and join us?

I still can’t quite believe that we’ve done it, and we have the medals to prove it! It was an amazing experience, like nothing most of us had ever done before in our lives! We don’t just paddle, we have fun together!  

Come and join us, we’re busy looking for our next adventure... You can contact us via the contact form on the website - or you can find us on Facebook at - Thanks SO much to Deryn for sharing her AMAZING experience with us all!

Do you have a story to tell that will encourage and inspire? Don't hesitate to get in touch with the Suburban Turban team at our Surrey studio to tell us more!

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