Winning can feel like life or death for athletes at every level. But, for those who have faced their own mortality, competing on an international stage provides the opportunity to spread hope.
Time spent on the water is part of the physical and mental recovery for a Vermont team composed of breast cancer survivors. Turns out, it's also the path to victory.
Monday night, family and friends gave the Dragonheart Sisters a hero's welcome as they walked through Burlington International Airport. The team races dragon boats, and returned from one of the sport's biggest international events with silver and gold.
"This is the bravest group of people I've ever known in my life and I'm so proud of them and all of us," said team member Liz Stanton.
They train on Lake Champlain, but faced much tougher seas as they competed in Hong Kong's busy bay. "Our practice we had our first time on the water was, shall we say disastrous," said Dragonheart founder Linda Dyer. But, the team quickly found its stroke.
"These ladies faced their fears of gong in the waters and came out paddling with more heart than I've ever seen before." said Dyer.
The team of Vermonters found its success in the 200 and 500 meter categories as more than 4,700 competitors from 22 countries tried to paddle to victory. "This just shows that a group of ladies and a man who survived breast cancer can do anything that they set their minds to do," said Stanton.
As cancer survivors, the team members say they secured victory before ever entering the water. They say competing is about spreading their message of hope "I think our message rang loud and clear," said Dyer.
The Dragonheart sisters managed to be among the fastest in the water, but ironically, their return flight got a bit delayed this evening. Victory can make an 18-hour plane ride feel a bit shorter.
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