“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.
Since 1999, North Bay has been home to the Warriors of Hope, a Dragon Boat racing team of Breast Cancer Survivors. An interesting and unique addition to the team over the last couple of years has been a three generational link with family team members Dorothy de Kiewiet, Sheryl Riley and Fiona Truong - the grandmother, mother, daughter trio who all compete with the team.
“I was hiking the Bruce Trail one weekend and at the cabins we were staying at, there happened to be a group of women from Peterborough from a Dragon Boat team and I never thought anything more of it,” says de Kiewiet.
“Two years later I got breast cancer myself and I emailed them to get some advice and they were wonderful and responded quickly. A few years later I came up to North Bay and found out there was a Dragon Boat team here. When they heard how old I was they wanted to interview me first, but they said I could join the team and it's been wonderful.”
Riley was next to join the team in 2015 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I went through my treatment the following year and in 2017, my mom dragged me out to check out this team. During the winter they do a weight workout which was my first introduction to the team, and to be honest, I always thought the idea of a weight workout was the most boring thing you could ever do, but it turned out to be a lot of fun,” says Riley.
“You have a group of women there who aren’t necessarily talking about breast cancer but everybody has been in that same boat. It turned out to be the best thing ever, I kept going back. Despite the fact that I was working out through the whole time that I had breast cancer, my muscles were so degraded, and it really took me about four-five years to get back to normal, but I don’t think I could’ve done it without that consistent workout.”
Riley says due to COVID-19 they struggled with memberships and, “We lost our steer who moved elsewhere so someone was going to have to leave behind the paddling and focus on the steering, and that’s where Fiona comes in.”
“I originally practiced with the team during the weight workouts to be there to support both mom and grandma,” says Truong.
“I actually loved that; I love doing weight work. I then started with the steering this fall and I loved that to so it looks like I’ll be doing that in future years as well.”
Truong says the family isn’t new to competitive water sports.
“We all did competitive swimming and we also do a lot of white water canoeing and so I had some experience in the stern before, as did mom.”
Riley says, “We threw Fiona in there and managed not to toss her out and we were doing racing starts by the second time she was in the back and so she was a quick learner and quick on her feet.”
Truong says the biggest learning curve was trying to pace yourself and maintaining stamina.
“When I first went out, I did half steering and half paddling and you’ve got a bunch of middle-aged to older women in the boat and I’m watching them warmup and they are all in time and I thought ‘ok this is going to be fine.’ They went for about half an hour and they were breathing pretty heavy, but then I got in and I was not prepared for how much stamina is actually required to do it.”
She says, “I am pretty fit, but two minutes in I had a stitch and I was gasping for air, I mean these are really strong women who work really hard to keep up with what they do.”
De Kiewiet says, “I’ve mostly been a hiker but when I moved to North Bay I thought, “there’s all this water here, I’ve got to do something that gets me on the lake.”
She adds, “I’m not able to go hiking or swimming like I used to because my back gives me problems, but I am able to sit down and paddle. That is the only thing that I can find that gets my heart rate up and I’m so thankful that I get to do it and that I’m accepted by the team.”
Riley echoes that sentiment about being accepted by the team.
“This team is amazing in that they are outgoing and incredibly positive and anyone involved in that boat would have an amazing experience,” she says.
“We’re all working together to do something great and so it's just a fantastic group that is put together.”
In a normal year, the team generally competes in three or four meets, going to Ottawa, Sudbury and Stratford in the past. But coming up in June of 2022, they will be heading to an international meet in Vancouver.
“We’ll only have our boat in the water for a few weeks before we head out to that event,” says de Kiewiet.
“I’m hoping my body holds out and that I’m able to go with the group to Vancouver so that I can say I’m racing with my daughter and my granddaughter because I imagine it is something that is quite unique.”
Riley says, “At these meets, we will race against other breast cancer survivors in the dragon boats. There are some races where we are against regular competitive racers which is visually interesting because you have this boat of white-haired people and we have Bill getting in with his knee brace and my mom using her cane to walk up to the boat and somebody helps her in and yet we still do really well because a lot of it just comes down to timing and teamwork and we work on that throughout the year.”
De Kiewiet says they also do team-building activities away from the gym and the water that includes fundraising and supporting other charities groups.
“We are a non-profit ourselves, but we do fundraise to help other groups,” she says.
Riley adds, “We also have people who are members that are non-paddling members. They help run the group, they help with the fundraising and so it’s a real group venture that goes beyond just the people in the boat.”
And with Breast Cancer being at the root of The Warriors of Hope, Riley used that to start an information fair.
“For three years in a row, I ran a breast cancer fair. When you go through cancer it is really hard to find resources,” she says.
“So, at this fair, I gathered together the resources available in town and they had their own booths set up and we organized a series of lectures. As much as it was important for people coming to the event, it was as equally important for the people running their booths because now all these resources were making connections with each other. Everyone was talking and cross-linking with each other and those important conversations were happening.”
Each woman says there is something different to love about the team.
“For me, it’s a matter of all being one in the boat,” says de Kiewiet.
“You’re all working together as a team, and there’s something very special about human beings who are sharing that with others, focused on one goal and synchronized as one.
Riley says it is all about fitness.
"When I’m out there paddling, you’re getting fit and you’re out there enjoying nature. It’s not really about the races for me, although we do have some of our teammates that get super excited about the meets, they beg for the racing starts during practices and it really charges them up," she stated.
Truong adds, “After a long hard day in class, I would get headaches, but when you get out on the boat in the fresh air and the wind blowing in your face, it fixes anything that was going wrong that day and being with this group is inspiring and they are an amazing bunch of people.”