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Warriors of Hope return home golden from Vancouver festival

Their motto: Heart, Determination, and Strength

North Bay’s Warriors of Hope Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team recently paddled their way to gold at the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Team captain, Janet Benoit, explained that the team’s first race was on the morning of Saturday, June 25th.  

Racers paddled their 20-metre-long boat for a distance of 500 metres.

The team used a boat loaned to them by the festival organizers.

“Every festival supplies their own dragon boats and they had just made I believe, 18 new dragon boats for that festival in particular. And they were beautifully done, very artistic, and very well made,” said Benoit.

“Our breast cancer division had a total of 19 teams, and they were from all over. Some were from the United States, and of course from all across Canada.”

It was a clean sweep for the North Bay team.

“We had to win our two races on the first day to get into the ‘A’ division and then the second day, the Sunday, we also did two races. We won every race that we were in,” stated a proud Benoit.  

Following Sunday’s semi-final heat, the team moved on to the finals, finishing with a winning time of just over two minutes (2.25.581).

The team captain is not sure how that finish stacks up against past winning times, “but it was a definite record for our group,” said a thrilled Benoit about their efforts.

The team had a long wait before learning they were gold medalists.    

“Most of us in the boat don’t look out of the boat when we’re actually racing. So, we didn’t know we had won for about 40 minutes after the race,” explained the team captain.

“They had us stay on the water for a race right after us, and then we had the carnation ceremony in memory of people who have not survived cancer. We each are given a carnation for the ceremony, and the boats were all lined up in a row beside each other. They played the music and then we threw our carnations in the water and said a little prayer to our families and past members of the team. Then we finally got off the water and back onto land and that is when we were told we had actually won.”

Reaction among the North Bay team was swift and emotional, especially after they realized just how tight a finish it actually was.

“We cried. The three winning boats that were first, second and third, were each a second apart. It was beyond our wildest dreams. We’re very elated and it was a very euphoric feeling,” shared Benoit.

The last time the team raced was before the pandemic hit.

“The question that I got from a Portland team was ‘So how long have you been on the water?’ And I said, ’Well, since the ice broke, probably the end of May but more so into June.’ And she looked at me strangely and then she said,  ‘Oh, we’ve been practicing since March,’" Benoit said.

”So we were all quite surprised that we did so well.”    

One of the Warriors wondered how they came to win when the other teams had so many younger members. “What makes us so different?” she questioned?

The response she received from a teammate was simply “It is in our heart. We’re all in sync. It is our passion. And we just do the best and be the best that we can be.” And she was satisfied with that answer,” said Benoit.

The Warriors of Hope prepare for their season by spending the winter focusing on dry land training.

”So we do weights and some workouts during the winter months.”

They weren’t able to get out on the water as often as they would have liked prior to the June festival.   

“We tried to set up some practices but we couldn’t get on the lake as much as we wanted to, because the water was pretty cold on the hands as well. So we really concentrated in June to get out two to three times a week including two Saturday mornings,” explained the team captain.

The team is comprised of a total of 35 members.

However, for this competition, 24 people travelled to Vancouver, which included 20 paddlers, two steers persons, a drummer, and team captain.

In addition to the female breast cancer survivors, the team is rounded out by a lone male breast cancer survivor.

It is unusual to have a male teammate, but they do with 80-year-old Bill who made the trip to Vancouver to compete with his teammates.

“He did an amazing job. We have two members who walk with a cane and are in their 80s. Such very, very inspiring people. The team is just amazing,” said Benoit.     

Their fellow male paddler originally volunteered with the team when his wife joined the team, after her breast cancer diagnosis.     

Years later, he would go on to discover that he too had developed breast cancer, something men should also be discussing with their doctor.

“She was one of the pioneers for the team. She passed away a couple of years ago but not before Bill got breast cancer and they paddled at least one year together,” shared Benoit.

One family of paddlers makes up three generations on the team. The mother and daughter both battle the disease, while the granddaughter shows her support by volunteering as a steersperson.

“We were allowed a non-breast cancer survivor steer. She didn’t steer this weekend but we brought her as a backup. And she is an amazing new little steer person who is working out quite well. We are very proud to have three generations on our boat.”

Benoit had high compliments for the main steersperson.

“Her name is Mikaela Iturregui. We scooped her up a couple of weeks  before, when we found out we could bring somebody who isn’t a survivor as a steers person, and she did an amazing job with us.”

The team members are all from North Bay and area.

“We are always recruiting for new members. It is a subject you don’t like to hear someone have, but being a team member is also a very, very good form of companionship and camaraderie. So it is very inspiring and it is very healthy to do it, both mentally and physically for our members. It helps with both the upper and lower body because you’re pushing with your legs, and it is also the core muscles. It is everything.”

This determined group isn’t prepared to sit back on their laurels.  

They have their sights set on a festival in Stratford this September.

“But the international breast cancer association is having a dragon boat festival too,  they have one every four years, in different international locations, and this year it is in New Zealand. It is a bit of a pie in the sky, but you can always dream. It is in April 2023.”

There will definitely be fundraising until then.

“We have our golf tournament on September 10th at Osprey Links.”

For further information about Warriors of Hope and how you can help or become a paddler, go to

The group also has a Facebook page.