Cape Town. 151208. Amebele Belle womans dragon race team in action. reporter Ray. Pic COURTNEY AFRICA

Raphael Wolf

IT HAS been two decades since a Canadian doctor discovered that dragon boat racing had a healing effect on people battling breast cancer.

Since then, breast cancer survivors across the world have taken to the sport with great gusto. In Cape Town, the AmaBele Belles team was started by Pam Newby in 2006.

At the weekend, the AmaBele Belles, under the captaincy of Merlin Osborne, were part of a team that won the Paddle for Madiba charity race.

The race was organised by the Oxford University Press Southern Africa and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The AmaBele Belles (roughly translated from isiXhosa as breasts of beautiful women) are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of dragon boat racing as a form of therapy for breast cancer survivors, said Eileen van Helden, vice-chairperson of AmaBele Belles.

Canadian doctor Don McKenzie found that dragon-boat racing was good therapy for people with breast cancer as it has huge psychological benefits. Now there are teams in the US, Australia and Europe.

“The 20th anniversary is about celebrating was about the start in Canada of breast cancer survivors taking up dragon-boating as a healing activity,” Van Helden said, adding that Saturday’s win has given them a huge boost.

“In 2018, we want to go to Florence in Italy for the big Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Championships. So, we want more people to join (our paddlers) to create a strong team.”

“It was more important to have fun with other dragon-boaters and to celebrate the second anniversary of the death of the iconic Madiba, because the event was held in his honour.”

Van Helden said the same year the team was founded, they competed in an international dragon-boat race for breast cancer survivors in Singapore, where they won a silver medal. They subsequently took part in races in Canada in 2010 and in Malaysia last year.

The AmaBele Belles are based at the V&A Waterfront and they train on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings. They also have a support group for newly diagnosed people. People interested in joining can call Van Helden on 072 425 3046 or Lenora Hammond on 082 424 7466 for details.

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