The tittilator may not be the most obvious choice for a boat name, but for the ladies of Launceston’s Dragons Abreast Northern Tasmania Inc Dragonboat Club, it couldn’t be more suitable.
As a Dragons Abreast Club, the members are all survivors of breast cancer.
Vice president Beth Sowter said they were not the only Dragons Abreast Club to use humor in describing their experience.
“We used to be the Tamar Tittilators and in Devonport, they had Nipples on Ripples,” she said.
“Some people get embarrassed when they hear it, but we actually get a good laugh out of it.
“It’s part of our overall philosophy that there is life after a breast cancer diagnosis.”
Mrs Sowter was one of the original members of DANTI, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
While the club initially comprised of only breast cancer survivors, dwindling numbers meant it was forced to expand in 2012 and allow other paddlers in, bringing about the creation of the North Esk Dragon Boat Club.
Despite the change, Dragons Abreast events are still a central part of the club’s schedule, with paddlers able eligible to participate in ‘pink’ meets across Australia throughout the year.
Mrs Sowter said the club’s unique make up can be difficult to explain.
“We’re a community club that embraces pink,” she said.
“There are two committees, but we all just meet as one.
“We’ve made sure that a survivor has always held the positions of president and treasurer within DANTI.”
Dragonboat racing is an aquatic sport involving a 12-metre long canoe-style boat which holds 20 people (two abreast), as well as a sweep to steer the boat and drummer.
We’ve made sure that a survivor has always held the positions of president and treasurer within Danti.
A dragonboat features the head and tail of a dragon, regarded in Chinese mythology as having dominion over the waters and exercising control over rainfall.
It’s link to the rehabilitation of breast cancer patients can be traced back to 1996 when Dr. Don McKenzie developed a program to determine the impact of exercise on survivors.
In choosing dragonboating, the exercise physiologist challenged the widespread medical view that breast cancer survivors should avoid rigorous upper body exercise for fear of developing lymphedema, a debilitating and chronic side effect of treatment.
He trained 24 breast cancer volunteers in a gym for three months, before introducing them to dragonboats and teaching them paddling techniques.
The women not only found themselves to fitter, healthier and happier, but they were also able to feed off the support of their fellow survivors.
They went on to name their team ‘Abreast in a boat’ and eventually invited others to share in their experience.
In Australia, the movement originated when a group of Northern Territory women attended the First National Breast Cancer Conference for Women in 1998.
After hearing a Canadian guest speaker mention how breast cancer survivors paddled dragonboats, Dragons Abreast founder Michelle Hanton returned to Darwin to recruit a group of paddlers.
It has since developed into a national organisation featuring survivors of various ages from a diverse mix of backgrounds.
Mrs Sowter said the spirit of camaraderie within Dragons Abreast was as strong now as it had ever been.
“It’s a very cohesive movement,” she said.
“We’ve got lots of interstate friends now who come and paddle with us if they are visiting.
“The club also attends various regattas around Australia.”
With October marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the club would usually be preparing to host its annual Come and Try Day on the Tamar River.
This year, however, paddlers are heading to Barrington to compete in Over 50s and 60s divisions of the Masters Games.
Held across the weekend of October 26, the event includes race specifically for survivors of cancer.
The timing of the games means the Come and Try Day will now be held in November, with Mrs Sowter encouraging anyone with an interest in paddling to head to the North Esk Rowing Club for what should be a fun day.
“We kit them out in gear and give them about half an hour on river in the boat,” she said.
“There have been quite a few members to come out of Come and Try Days in past, although it has been difficult to retain them.”
For more information, head to www.northeskdragons.com/danti.
All pictures: Paul Scambler