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Adventure awaits - from Canada to Australia with love

From Tracy Sexton, MAP Chair, on her move from East Coast Canada to Australia.

It is Feb 17, 2020, and I am standing in the Toronto airport holding back tears watching my adventurous daughter, Jennifer, go through security and out of sight. She is heading off to do her Master of Education in Melbourne, Australia and will be home in November after her first year is finished. Little did we know that 3 weeks later the world would shut down and 9 months would turn into 26 months. I blame Rowbust and dragon boating for my daughter’s sense of adventure and drive to travel the world. If she had not been part of the Rowbust family and travelled with me to Australia in 2016 for the Club Crew World Championships (CCWC) the two of us would not have fallen in love with Australia and vowed to come back one day.

Let me introduce myself. I am Tracy. First and foremost, I am a mom. My daughter is the most important person in my life and now that she is grown up, she has become my best friend. I am also a doctor, a radiation oncologist to be precise and I specialize in treating patients with breast cancer, in other words, all your paddlers out there. And as you have probably guessed, I am also a survivor. I was diagnosed in 2006 during my speciality training so by the time I finished and was a full-fledged oncologist I truly “knew” more about breast cancer than any of my colleagues. Truthfully, I cannot regret my journey because it has made me a much better doctor and I draw upon those experiences daily. I want to use my expertise to help my fellow paddlers so last year I joined the Medical Advisory Panel (MAP) of the IBCPC and work with some wonderful health practitioners there where our goal is to improve the lives of all women with breast cancer.

I have been paddling for 12 years now and know that it will be a part of my life forever. At the beginning, I was completely unaware that dragon boating teams for breast cancer survivors existed until a friend introduced me to Rowbust at their 10th anniversary festival. They were looking for people to fill the boat and she brought me along. The first race was a 2 km; I had never been in a boat before, so I just followed the person in front and by the end of the race was hooked. They had to drag me out of the boat as I could not breathe but I loved every minute of it, and I joined that fall and never looked back. Not only am I in the best shape of my life but dragon boating has allowed me to indulge in my love of travel; from Sarasota’s IBCPC participatory festival to Europe and Australia for the world championships and everything in between. I have paddled with survivor teams, mixed teams, women’s teams, 20 boat, 10 boat and even OC’s. It has been an incredible journey.

From the beginning, Rowbust was family. It was the one place I could go and just be me. I was not treated like a doctor, just a friend and for doctors that is precious indeed. I could tell everyone my fears, hopes and dreams and know that they cared and would support me. They were there for me when I left my marriage, they helped me raise my daughter, supported me when my brother passed away unexpectedly and stood behind me when I was offered a job in Australia. They are my anchor and always will be wherever I happen to be.

So, there I was at the age of 52 deciding if I should start my career over in a brand-new country. I knew I would miss my patients, my teammates, my friends, and family in Canada but they would only be ½ a world away and I WOULD see them again. I was ready for a change and new professional challenges and my dad was all for it (I think he just wanted a new place to spend the winters!). Being able to be on the same continent as my daughter won out in the end. She had finished her studies and gotten a job as a kindergarten teacher and of course, found an Aussie man who treats her like gold. I knew she would not be home for quite some time, so I took the job and 14 months later in April 2022 finally arrived in Brisbane, where there is no snow, only warmth and sunshine.

Of course, I had to find a team to join so I contacted Dragons Abreast Brisbane or Missabittatitti (DAB) as it is more affectionately known, and they welcomed me with open arms. I was excited to paddle with them because they were also at the CCWC in Adelaide, and we had gotten to know many of the team members quite well during the competition and it was great to see them again. Paddling with DAB feels like Rowbust has been transplanted to Australia. Everyone treats me like family, and I have many people who are willing to drive me to practices and festivals. I feel quite spoiled actually! They are “sister” clubs in the true sense of the word.

Having met and paddled with many teams from all around the world over the past 12 years, I have realized that survivor teams are special. They all have that extra feeling of acceptance, support and family that comes from a shared experience and that you just cannot find with any other team. Even when we are competing against one another we encourage and celebrate each other and our lives. I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced not just one paddling family but two and I look forward to celebrating with both my teams at the participatory festival in New Zealand in April.