The Abreast of Life Dragon Boat Club is celebrating 20 years of success

Twenty years of dragon boating

by Ann van Engelen

Members of The Abreast of Life Dragon Boat club came from near and far to celebrate its 20th anniversary last weekend and to see the first life membership awarded to Janice Melville.

New Zealand were early adopters of breast cancer dragon boat paddling — the country has the most teams per capita in the world.

The second breast cancer survivor team to have started in New Zealand, Abreast of Life formed in September 1999 and Janice joined the team in 2000. Club captain Meri Gibson is the second-longest member.

“Janice is a very integral team member being the sweep, keeping the boat heading in the right direction. I was thrilled to present this award to her along with my co-captain Gail Beedles,” says Meri.

“The original team members regaled many stories of team antics and a current team member continued noting the changes in uniform over the years and constant chatter and laughter filled the room.

“Our coaches through the 20 years were recognised followed by a circle of life, where, in blocks of five years survivors join the group to form a final circle. Two people on the outside of the circle had been diagnosed more than 30 years ago.”

The club also had a roll call of those angels who have passed.

“Abreast of Life has lost 25 paddlers in its 20 years. We acknowledged those who have passed away and those who continue on this journey with a flower ceremony.

“We consider passed paddlers as the angels on our shoulders that paddle with us. It was a wonderful day of celebrations with a passion for dragon boating at the forefront of the day’s celebrations.”

Meri was also captain of the NZ Black Dragons Senior B Women’s small boat squad that competed in Thailand recently. Janice and Rolleston resident ‘Gilly’ McGill, also represented New Zealand.

Meri was recently named the associate vice president of the International Dragon Boat Federation.

“IDBF is the body that looks after the whole of the sport on an international level. It is great to be at the council table and provide a strong voice for not only our members but the women athletes in general,” says Meri.