POSITIVE: Christine Lonie at the Tweed Seniors Awards at Banora Point.
POSITIVE: Christine Lonie at the Tweed Seniors Awards at Banora Point.

Survivor paddles to a positive future

LOSING family members to breast cancer and being diagnosed with the disease herself wasn't a death sentence for Murwillumbah's Christine Lonie - far from it.

Instead, Chris used her family tragedies to help herself and others by forming the Dragons Abreast Dragon Boat Club in Murwillumbah, a group that has gone from strength to strength and is now looking for its own premises.

Thanks to a grant from the Murwillumbah Services Memorial Club and support from CWA clubs, Chris and other members of the Dragons Abreast Club are hoping to head out to Lismore, Alstonville and Casino later this year to offer support and talk about breast cancer survival and the things you can do after treatment and surgery. Although it probably won't include taking a boat out there.

It is just the next step for Chris, who has fought the disease herself, watched others around her go through the fight and is determined to give something back.

"A Canadian doctor, Dr Don McKenzie, 20 years ago was trying to come up with an exercise for women that had breast cancer surgery or treatment, because sometimes you lose your lymph glands, so a lot of women were getting lymphoedema in their arms," Chris said. "He came across Dragon Boat paddling and that was in Vancouver and it's just blossomed."

Chris said the sport was not only good for the upper body, but for the entire body as a whole, because participants are heaving and pulling.

For Chris, the involvement in the sport started because of her family's history of breast cancer.

"I lost my mother in '85 to breast cancer, my older sister in 2006 and my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and then I was as well, but that was after the club was formed," she said.

"But I lost my sister in '06 and from then on I was trying to find something to reach out to the community to do something for breast cancer survivors because I obviously couldn't help my own sister. And that was where the club started.

"Dragons Abreast Gold Coast brought a boat down to Condong in 2007 and I saw a little snippet in the paper, and I thought maybe that's what we could do in this area. And so my younger sister and I started paddling with those girls and spent the '07 trying to form our club in Murwillumbah." The club finally took off at the annual Kids In Need Dragon Boat Regatta in early December at Jack Evans Boat Harbour and hasn't looked back.

"We started from there and it's grown from there in-line with our club motto "strength-to-strength" and that's what we've done," Chris said.

"So now we've got two clubs - Coolangatta/Mt Warning and Dragons Abreast Mt Warning all under the one club banner - it's just a sporting club and our Dragons Abreast club which is made up of breast cancer survivors and their supporters."

The clubs work together to raise money to buy boats and equipment. The next project is to find some land and build a permanent clubhouse on the banks of the Tweed River.

The clubs are working with Tweed Shire Council to find some permanent land for a clubhouse to be set up. In the meantime, Council has found some land by the pump station on the river where the clubs have been able to set up their storage containers.

"We have been working with the Tweed Shire Council to find us some land somewhere," Chris said. "We are having a bit of trouble because we're in such a flood prone area. We are working with the Tumbulgum soccer club to see if we can come up with something there. But the council has allocated us a bit of land where we can put our containers near the pump station, we're starting there and starting small."

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