Abreast with FORTitude practiced in Fort Langley.

Langley’s Abreast with FORTitude paddling team celebrates survival at Relay

The team will show its colours at the annual Canadian Cancer Society event on Saturday

One of the most prominent groups supporting the Fraser Valley Relay for Life this year will be forming up their “pink army” again for this Saturday’s event.

Abreast With FORTitude is the Fort Langley-based Abreast in a Boat dragonboat paddling club.

Every member of Abreast in a Boat is a breast cancer survivor or patient, said local team captain Michelle Righetti.

“We’re really trying to inspire women, people who have a diagnosis,” Righetti said.

The team goes back to the late 1990s and the work of a UBC professor of sports medicine named Don McKenzie. He wanted to prove that the conventional wisdom for breast cancer survivors – avoid strenuous physical exercise – was wrong.

There are five Abreast in a Boat teams around the Lower Mainland, and more than 200 teams around the world.

Righetti, originally from England, joined the team five years ago.

After her diagnosis of breast cancer eight years ago, she saw a woman with an Abreast with Fortitude T-shirt at a Zumba class and asked what it was about.

She’s been training twice a week with the team ever since.

With 22 paddlers, the team makes up an imposing presence at the start of the Relay for Life.

“We always do the first lap,” said Righetti.

The initial lap at every Relay for Life is the survivors lap. Cancer survivors and people in treatment are decked out in yellow T-shirts and take to the track at McLeod Athletic Park for a ceremonial lap before the other relay teams start.

The Abreast with FORTitude team provides support for one another, for the other survivors, and can do a bit of outreach at the same time – they are taking new members, and anyone who’s interested can ask them.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women, Righetti noted, with one in eight women receiving a diagnosis in her lifetime.

She’s enthusiastic about Relay, which celebrates and fundraises for people facing all varieties of cancer.

“I look at it as a positive thing,” she said.

Anyone who is struggling with cancer or has just received a diagnosis can come and see a crowd of survivors, including the Abreast with FORTitude crew, heading out for a walk.

“We’re okay, there is life after diagnosis,” she said.

Potential new members – experience not required – can visit www.abreastinaboat.com or email newmembers@abreastinaboat.com to join.

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