Breast cancer survivors rise to dragon boat challenge

Human Interest

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For more than 20 years, one unique team of women has come together as a source of support and strength in the Dragon Boat Races.

Pink Phoenix is the only all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. (KOIN) 

Dragon Boat Races are a long-standing tradition for Portland Rose Festival and this team’s fighting spirit makes them stand out. Pink Phoenix is the only full team of breast cancer survivors.

For 22 years, Pink Phoenix has paddled the waters around Portland. On June 8, they’ll fight for the top spot at the annual Dragon Boat Race.

“We love to empower breast cancer survivors through this sport and there are so many positive things so many of us have gained from being on Pink Phoenix,” Annette Johnson said. 

Pink Phoenix is the only all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. (KOIN) 

There are 110 members — one who is 80 years old — but make no mistake, just like the mythical bird their team name honors, these women will rise up to any challenge.

“I was a couch potato before I joined this team. I wasn’t getting any exercise, I could hardly keep my paddle in for the first year,” said Kathleen Burns.

Burns joined Pink Phoenix in 2009, five years after getting diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Once you face cancer, nothing holds you back because you’re so grateful for your life and you don’t want anything to get in the way of that so you give it everything you have,” Burns said.

Burns was 49 when she was diagnosed and had a bi-lateral mastectomy and 6 months of chemotherapy.

The group practices three times a week and when it first formed, Pink Phoenix was the first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team in the country.

More about Pink Phoenix 

Johnson was diagnosed three years ago and learned about the team from her physical therapist.

“I said I’m not looking for a support group, and they said ‘trust me, this isn’t your average everyday support group,'” she said. 

Pink Phoenix is the only all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. (KOIN) 

The team is much more than a physical challenge for these survivors. 

“We’re there for physical support, emotional support and having walked that walk we’ve gone through,” Johnson said. “But this is a great way to celebrate, I say it’s the best lemonade from lemons.”

“So many of us say we have discovered our athlete again after many years maybe of being dormant,” Johnson said.

While they may have been athletes in the making, these women were always warriors.

Pink Phoenix is the only all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. (KOIN) 

If you’re interested in joining Pink Phoenix, check out the Gorman Cup at the Dragon Boat Races. You can ride along or paddle with them and no experience is necessary.

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