Walking around the 125 tents at this event, you realise that 99 percent of all the ladies here have all had breast cancer. It is Amazing! There are about 3500 paddlers, 125 teams with 30 teams from Australia and 33 from US. It is phenomenal. This is the largest all women event in the world. The camaraderie here is so natural.
Everywhere you go in this town, there are groups of pink clad tourists. The Americans and the Aussies are loud, the south Americans are looking for a party and a beat to move to, the Poms are quietly queuing for cups of tea, and the kiwis are, well, a bit of all of them but less so.
We are all talking together and trading pins or whatever we have. Everyone wants the NZ pin as it is quite rare. It is a great way of meeting different people. So many people have expressed an interest in wanting this event to be in NZ next time, and would love to come to us.
Our team, the 'Vienna Pink Dragons International' has Austrian, Aussie, Belgian, Kiwi, English, French, Canadian, South African, Polish and German members. Everyone is lovely and we have been made very welcome.
Most are ok with English, but if there are instructions, that has to be translated. Day to day conversations - we are all on the same wavelength. Especially when we come off the water, high fives are pretty international.
The opening ceremony started with a parade through the streets of Florence and over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge - the oldest in Florence. It has gold shops either side, but used to be butcher's shops, who got rid of their waste at the end of the day by swilling it directly into the river below. Yuck! We were able to have a special paddle under this bridge, with an Argentinean team and Colleen from Boobops on the sweep oar. Luckily no butchers swill just tourists claping and cheering us.
We had two races each day and won all four with an easy ( mostly) margin. Quite surprised as some of our paddlers had not been in a race before, and the 500m is not a usual distance, as 200m is the norm. Some of the other teams look so uncoordinated, with paddlers pulling out, or so badly out of time. I remind myself, as we all do, that it is participatory.
On the the second day the last race was a memorial for Sandy Smith, whose family attend each event, with the flower ceremony at the end. There was only space for one representitive from each team, so our organiser Svenja was nominated.
We had the privilege of getting a photo with Dr Don McKenzie. This great man started the whole Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon boat team - 22 years ago. He realised that it was beneficial to BC survivors and says " It improves the quality of life and has measurable benefits in physical and mental health". Yeah, what he said...
It is a great honour to meet and get a photo with him.
It is very well organised even with busses to transport us to the event and away at the end of the day.
Us kiwis have had some knock backs with a few illnesses that we brought with us or picked up along the way. We are all pushing ourselves to the limit with cramming in as much as we can every day. But when it comes to the crunch, everyone is in the boat giving 100%.
The pace of paddling is very slow, but so strong. It felt very odd when we started, but it worked! Our times were 2m 39 to 2.36 - getting faster for the last race. Not too bad for a composite team with 3 newbies. The fastest times were 2.20 with Can Survive on 2.21.
The sweep is not used to having a full boat and is used to being in salt water, but managed very well.
At the end of the weekend we had made so many new friends, and have invitations to go to many countries to paddle.
We came away knowing that we were part of this great participatory event, but so excited that we finished up as ranking 37 out of 125 teams. That's what we came to do... Done!
Ciao for now
Mac and the Pink Ferns
Azba, Catherine, Ceedub, Di, Donna, Mac, Robynne, Susan
Learn more about the event! - http://www.florencebcs2018.org/