• “When you push off from the dock … we’re all in the same boat. 
    This isn’t about cancer anymore. It’s about exercise and health and the rest of your life. 
    When we push off we’re paddling away from breast cancer.” 

    - Dr. Don McKenzie, Founder, Abreast In A Boat 
  • “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain!” 

    - Vivian Greene 
  • “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” 

    - T.H. Thompson & John Watson 
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. 
    The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ 

    - Nelson Mandela 

1st World BCS Dragon Boat Championships 2006

The amaBele Belles, the first Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Racing team in Africa, returned in early October 2006 with a trophy and silver medals from the 1st Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat World Championships in Singapore.

The club was formed in April this year (2006) and as the newest team in the championship were seeded bottom against 16 other teams that have been in existence for between two and eleven years. The “Belles” announced themselves in dramatic style by winning their first race by more than a boat length.

In the month leading up to the championship, the team had “choir practice” after their Wed evening sessions where we learnt to sing the national anthem with gusto as well as a simplified version of Shosholoza. Every time we arrived at or left the venue, we sang Shosholoza. This always made the other teams stop what they were doing and wave a greeting to us. When we sang “Nkosi” at the celebration dinner it was the only time the hall of over 1000 women (and a few men) fell silent to listen. I had so many compliments from other team managers and paddlers but the one I especially appreciated was from another helm who said “I want to congratulate your team on playing fair” (there are tricks that helms can get up to that can give their own team an advantage….) Although the primary aim of breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams is far deeper and more serious than mere sport and fun, when it comes to the actual racing, these ladies train as hard and race as seriously as any other dragon boaters.

The amaBele Belles range from 32 to 50+ and from Comrades runners to women who haven’t done sport since they were at school. They include teachers, nurses, receptionists, radiographers, computer technologists, a martial arts teacher, a professor, wine farmers and home makers – but they all have the common bond of having survived breast cancer and of now grasping life wholeheartedly and living it to the full. One member of the team is still undergoing chemotherapy; she told her doctor he must fit her treatments around the competition! Another girl had reconstructive surgery less than four weeks ago, whilst two paddlers had a second mastectomy less than three months ago.

The event had three categories; 100% where all paddlers, the drummer and the helm had to be survivors. The 80/20% women’s category allowed 4 supporters to be part of the team and the 80/20% mixed allowed for up to four supporters of which at least two had to be male. There were two race distances per category, 200m and 500m. Although the 100% categories are the important ones, we enjoyed having the 80/20 categories as well, as it gave the supporters and husbands a chance to be part of something they had encouraged and supported since the inception of the team.

When the silver medals were handed out, Nicky (who travels in with Lorette to Cape Town all the way from de Doorns twice a week to train) said

A year ago today I lost my boob, what a way to celebrate the first anniversary – with a silver medal!

And the last word from Liz, who wasn’t allow to paddle at first as it was only three weeks since her mastectomy. Instead she took the role of drummer from where she watched and listened carefully … and went home and practiced on the edge of her bed with a broomstick;

There are no words to describe this experience. I will never ever ever forget it or all the people involved

We hope the existence and the success of the amaBele Belles inspires other cancer patients with hope


News Archive
Meet The Belles
Eileen van Helden

Eileen van Helden

I’m a molecular biologist in Biomedical Sciences, Stellenbosch University. We work on finding the genes that ...
Full Story.
Behind the Cape Grace Hotel, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town
Mondays 17h30 for 18h00 and Saturdays 07h30 for 08h00