Indy SurviveOars paddle through breast cancer diagnosis as a team; ‘All together, you can’t do it alone.’


INDIANAPOLIS — A group of breast cancer survivors is taking awareness to a whole new level, on the water, by bringing dragon boating to Indiana.

The team sport, they say, is a great way for women still fighting the disease and others currently in remission, to come together and fight as a team. 

The women, who have met three times a week for the last 14 years at Geist Reservoir are survivors no doubt, but they’d rather be called survive-oars.

“This group helps us with our mental fitness and our physical fitness and by all of us being active here… it’s just a group of positive women that more than likely you never would have met in your life had this diagnosis not happened,” Indy SurviveOars President Elizabeth Anderson said, “It’s indescribable really, when you’re out there… you leave your worries away.”

There’s not much scarier than a cancer diagnosis, but this floating sisterhood of survivors is rowing forward regardless.

“It’s very fearful when you hear the words cancer but… being part of this group you see women who are all ages, all athletic abilities and all stages of cancer,” Anderson said. “We practice not to live in fear. You know? Each day is a gift and we’re out here together just pushing forward.”

On land, Anderson is a cancer survivor but out here in the water she becomes one of 22 women in the same boat in more ways than one. United through their pain, pursuing purpose together one paddle at a time. 

“All together. You can’t do it individually at all so… that’s just like in life, you all have to be together,” Anderson said. “When they’re out here, they feel the sisterhood. They feel the enthusiasm, the closeness. The family feel that we all have.”

One small mistake and their narrow vessel could veer off course, that’s where coaching comes in. 

“The camaraderie and the sport and the… the love of all of it. It has just been amazing,” Indy SurviveOars Assistant Coach Michelle Lytle said. “It gives us something to focus on other than the cancer… I never wanted that to be my identity.”

Their collective identity was given a heartbeat by the drum still pounding inside each member of the team. The drum is adorned with the names of sisters no longer with the team today. 

“They’re always in our heart and they’re always on that drum and they’re always with us when we’re out their paddling,” Lytle said. “We continue to remember them as we paddle. They’re part of us today.”

The Indy SurviveOars are ranked internationally. 30th fastest dragon boat in the world. They are Indiana’s only breast cancer driven dragon boat team and they hope to compete in five competitions next year.

You don’t need to have an athletic history to join the Indy SurviveOars, if you’re a breast cancer survivor you can join the team. 

The team is always looking for new members who want to join their floating sisterhood.

“Sometimes you do forget why we’re all here and that’s actually great that you actually forget about your diagnosis,” Anderson said. “Sometimes I even forget I’m a cancer survivor because life is so active in this group and it just brings you so much hope and joy.”

You can support the SurviveOars through their virtual Pink Paddle Party Saturday November 13th, more information can be found on their website

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