From BCS Flower Ceremony on April 30, 2016

Ten years ago, at this event, we ran the first Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat race in the State of Florida. At that time the Pink Dragon Ladies were the only cancer team in the State, and we hosted a composite team representing the “Dragon Divas” from Atlanta and “Hope Afloat” from Philadelphia. Little did we know that within 10 years there would be a total of 9 Breast Cancer Survivor dragon boat teams throughout Florida – by far the most of any state in the country.

What is it about Dragon Boat racing that is so compelling for Survivors? You could ask a hundred paddlers, and you would probably get a hundred different responses. We paddle to regain our strength, our confidence, our spirit. We paddle for the camaraderie, the health benefits, the support, the friendship, and the opportunity to spread the word about breast cancer. Some paddle to absorb the positive energy of the dragon - others to slay its negative power. We paddle because WE CAN, and we paddle for those WHO CANNOT.

We come from a wide range of backgrounds, age groups, faiths, and cultures. But we are brought together by the Great Equalizer – CANCER. Together we have the strength - to stare into the face of our cancer and our mortality and say: Not Without a Fight!

And fight, we do. We are there for each other. Whether it’s the first diagnosis or the 5th recurrence; whether it’s the drudgery of chemotherapy or the joy of newly constructed cleavage; whether it’s the relief of getting a clean bill of health or the terror of another and different cancer diagnosis.

But sometimes despite our best efforts - personally and collectively - we must “bow to the dragon,” and bid farewell to our sisters – our comrades in arms. Each of these 3 teams has lost members to cancer, and we gather during this flower ceremony to celebrate our fallen sisters over the years. Sadly, in addition, we join the Pan Am staff and the rest of the Tampa Bay Dragon Boat community in mourning the loss this week of Nancy Kemper – paddler, coach, steer, designer, and friend. She was a creative force and a gentle soul. She will be missed greatly and remembered fondly.

Today and always, we remember the teammates we have lost to cancer. They each have left indelible marks on our teams and on our hearts. We take courage from their valiant struggle, and we celebrate their victory. For, although Cancer has won the battle over their bodies, it could not defeat their indomitable spirits. They are with us always. We feel their energy in our paddles - and their heartbeat in each stroke.

The flowers we release on the water today represent each of our lost teammates – beautiful, unique, fragile, and now at peace.

Let us observe a moment of silence.

Contributed by Liz O’Connell, Pink Dragon Ladies