Since their first Yukon River Quest in 2001, the breast cancer survivors of Paddlers Abreast have gone from boat to boat to boat.
For the 2006 race, the team will finally have one to call its own.
The brand new, nine-metre, clipper-style canoe made its debut Thursday before a small gathering on the banks of the Yukon River in Rotary Park.
“This was kind of a dream,” said team captain Linda Rapp. “For the first few years we used a variety of boats — the RCMP’s boat one year, and both Up North and Kanoe People provided us boats.”
The Paddlers were, in fact, the originators of the Voyageur category in the River Quest.
Inspired by dragon boat teams of cancer survivors from across Canada, the Whitehorse team approached race officials with a proposal for a demonstration category in 2001.
Eleven local breast cancer survivors piled into a “monster canoe” that year, and have managed to improve their time every year since.
“At that point there was no voyageur category in the River Quest, so we’re proud of that, we started a trend — I think this year there are six or seven teams in that category,” said Rapp.
Now that the group has its own vessel, plans are in place to expand the program beyond running the River Quest, to include the paddling and camaraderie without the race and endurance aspects.
“For women in treatment or recovering from treatment, the idea of a 743-kilometre race is daunting,” said Rapp.
“We really saw that as raising awareness of breast cancer, and looking to provide a broader program, where women recovering from treatment or undergoing treatment might be able to come out for a nice evening paddle for a couple hours,” said Rapp. “While we were renting a boat, that expansion of the program was not financially possible.”
“Now, with our boat, we can do the program we finally want to do.”
Last fall, the Paddlers Abreast gained official charity status. After that, the first order of business was to find a sponsor to help bring in a canoe.
The group didn’t have to look very far.
“At our first meeting, Cindy Gilday, one of our team members, announced that Narrow Gauge Contracting, her family business, would sponsor our boat,” said Rapp.
The boat was delivered in April, but it wasn’t ready to go at that point.
Teslin artist Ken Anderson joined the project, painting the boat in the Tlingit style, and was on hand Thursday to share the meaning of his images.
“Moons are representative of the female in many cultures, that’s why I used them,” said Anderson.
“The moon in the bow represents the coming moon, the moon in the stern is the past, between the two moons is the present, and that’s where the people are paddling.”
“For me, it was a great honour to be able to do this for these ladies,” said Anderson.
After the speeches were finished, sponsors Doug and Cindy Gilday anointed the boat with champagne, enjoyed some of the bubbly themselves, and put the boat into the river.
The team members climbed in, grabbed their paddles and headed off for their first training session in the new vessel — a jaunt to Policeman’s Point under sunny skies.
The Yukon River Quest starts on June 28 in Whitehorse.