What a Wonderful Vacation!

8 08 2018

Everyone loves a vacation.  Some are more special or unique than others.  That would certainly describe the most recent vacation taken by RBSK’s own Bob Blankman along with his wife Carol and daughters, Lisa and Megan.  They traveled to Italy for a very special purpose.

They left Indiana on June 30th arriving in Rome on July 1st.  The first part of the trip was devoted to excursions and sightseeing trips.  While in Rome, they visited the Catacombs, the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain.  A side trip to Assisi was also included.

Then it was off to Tuscany for a wine tasting lunch on July 4th.  From there, they visited Sienna before traveling to Florence.  One of the highlights of the stay in Florence was touring galleries which included the original statue of David by Michelangelo.

Arriving in Florence was the ultimate goal of the trip.  For you see, Bob’s wife Carol is a two-time breast cancer survivor.  Almost 3 years ago she joined the Indy SurviveOars Dragon Boat Racing Team whose home is located at Geist Reservoir in Indianapolis.  This team traveled to Florence, Italy for an international festival for breast cancer survivors hosted by the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission (IBCPC) on July 6th through July 8th.

The IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival is held every four years and is a non-competitive event geared toward teams of breast cancer survivors using dragon boat activities as post-operative rehabilitation.  Canadian sports medicine doctor Don McKenzie introduced dragon boat paddling as a form of rehabilitation after surgery about 20 years ago.  The IBCPC has a total of 129 teams from 17 countries spanning every continent.

The festival was held at Cascine Park, which is the largest public park in Florence and dates back to the 16th century.  The races took place on the Arno River which runs through the outskirts of the park.

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Following a couple of practice sessions and similar to the Olympics, the festivities began the evening of July 6th with a parade of nations through the streets of Florence.  The Blankman family can be seen wearing their parade shirts in the picture above.  A woman from each country carried their nation’s flag followed by the teams participating in the festival from that country.  Each team carried a banner indicating who they were.  A woman from the Indy SurviveOars group had the honor of carrying the American flag followed by 42 teams from the United States.  She was the youngest woman from the United States participating in the festival having survived breast cancer twice at the age of 29.  Pictured below are the Indy SurviveOars participating in the parade.

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The dragon boat races then took place on July 7th and 8th.  Dragon boats are over 40 feet long propelled by a coordinated crew of 20-22 paddlers, a drummer who keeps the pace, and a steerer who guides the craft.  There were enough women who made the trip to Italy for the Indy SurviveOars to field one full team but not enough for two teams.  So, some of the women were part of “composite” teams joining other women from other states or countries to form a full team for the races.  The Indy SurviveOars were a part of 3 “composite” teams joining other women from New York, Vermont and Australia.  Carol and 4 other Indy SurviveOars women joined a team from New York for their races.  Thus, there were 4 teams that included women from the Indy SurviveOars.

It really didn’t matter to the women which team they were on.  Their motto is “One Team, One Blade” with the blade representing the paddle.  This basically means that it doesn’t matter which boat you are in or where you are, we are all in this together.

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Each race consisted of 5 boats racing against each other in a heat.  Carol Blankman (second from the back on the left) can be seen in the picture above paddling with her team in one of the heats.  Each team raced twice each day.  Although this was a non-competitive event, as mentioned previously, once the women were in their boats and racing in their heats, it was very competitive.  Each woman in each boat gave their best effort to not only win their heat, but to also have the best overall time for the two days of racing.  The team consisting of all women from Indy SurviveOars finished 30th out of approximately 125 teams, 11th out of 42 US teams and 2nd among US Midwest teams.  This was their best showing in any of the 3 such festivals in which they have participated.  The picture below shows the view as the boats approach the finish line.

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The most beautiful and meaningful part of the festival occurred at the end of the second day of the races.  Every dragon boat racing event, including festivals, ends with a rose ceremony.  All the boats are linked together in the water, and each woman on the boats holds a rose while a brief talk is given or a short prayer is being said.  Then the roses are tossed in the water to commemorate and remember those women who have lost their battle with breast cancer or have had a reoccurrence, as well as all of those who have had the disease.

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For this ceremony at the festival, music was also playing in the background.  All 4,000 women in attendance wore the same pink T-shirts for the ceremony.  The women who were standing on the side of the river and not in the boats also tossed roses in the water.  It was a very touching and beautiful way to end the festival.

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What a wonderful vacation!!!

For anyone who may be interested in seeing dragon boat racing in person, the White River Alliance in Indianapolis is sponsoring an inaugural White River Dragon Boat Race on Saturday, September 29th.  The White River Races will begin at 8:30a.m. and should end mid-afternoon.  We hope to see you there.

 

 


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