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Paddling “virtually” to celebrate 10 years of Plurabelle Paddlers

Article written by: Dara Duffy, Susan Rowe and Fiona Slevin, Dublin, Ireland

When Fiona Tiernan’s breast cancer recurred in 2009 she ‘decided to put together a dragon boat racing team for women who are recovering from breast cancer’. Fiona didn’t have a paddle, a crew, a boat or any money, but she had vision, courage, tenacity and incredible powers of persuasion.

On Saturday the 17th of April 2010, the Plurabelle Paddlers held our first open day meeting. Six months later the dragon boat team had paddles, two crews, two boats, a coach, qualified helms and a name that reflected the club’s Dublin origins. By setting up the Plurabelle Paddlers, Fiona created a community of people who had all had a diagnosis of breast cancer – all with a shared commitment to overcoming fear about illness and maintaining fitness and wellness with each and every paddle stroke.

Under Fiona’s initial leadership the Plurabelle Paddlers has thrived. It remains a vibrant and welcoming club.

Plurabelle Paddlers is Ireland’s first dragon boat club to register with the IDBA (Irish Dragon Boat Association). Based on Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock, the club’s aims are for members to get fit, to enjoy the mutual support of team-mates and to raise awareness of breast cancer.

As Ireland’s first dragon boat club, Plurabelle Paddlers has consistently sought to offer support and encouragement to the growing dragon boat family in Ireland. In 2014 the club brought together paddlers from all over Ireland to take part in the IBCPC Festival in Sarasota, Florida. This was a composite team where the Plurabelle Paddlers were joined by others from Cork Dragons, Suir Dragon Paddlers, Waterford Dragon Warriors and Carlow Dragons and also by three women who went on to found Lagan Dragons and Donegal Dragons in 2015. The club subsequently took part in the festival in Florence in 2018 and preparations are underway for the next trip to New Zealand in 2022.

As a club, we enjoy jointly hosting a weekend regatta in Dublin every September. It is very well attended by local teams and we welcome visiting teams from around the world. Put it in your diary for next year! We also enjoy travelling, our first trip was to Malaysia in 2011 and we have since gone to regattas in Italy, Spain, France and the U.K. as well as our local competitions in Carlow, Athy, Kilkenny, Cork, Portadown, Castlebar and Donegal.

The Plurabelle Paddlers club has always said that there is room on the boat for everyone, no matter what their level of fitness. Some of our members have played sport competitively while others have never considered themselves ‘sporty’. Some of the more competitive Plurabelles were selected for the Senior Irish International Women’s Team that brought back silver medals from the European Nations Dragon Boat Championships in 2016 and 2018. Watching the races online from Dublin, their fellow Plurabelles were delighted and very proud of the achievements of their team-mates at the highest level of international dragon boat racing.

Preparations were already well underway to celebrate the Plurabelle Paddlers 10th birthday when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and everything changed. It wasn’t meant to be like this!

However, on Friday 17th April 2020, over 80 of us gathered together, not in person but by tuning in to our Whatsapp group to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We shared photos of special memories. We played video messages we received from fellow BCS paddlers from other clubs. We remembered our members who we have loved and lost. We reminisced and chatted and celebrated our wonderful club.

So, for the foreseeable future, instead of coming together in person to celebrate our milestone birthday, we are showing our love for our team mates and supporters by maintaining our distance. It seems very alien to us. Plurabelle Paddlers is a club that thrives on members being there for each other, supporting, encouraging, socializing, training and competing together. But, we will now do what is necessary; we will celebrate our wonderful 10 years together – apart!

We know that this period of worry and enforced isolation won't last forever. We, therefore, greatly look forward to the day when we will return to the water, to the sport that we love so much.

As a club we have so much to be grateful for – all that we have achieved together so far, all the friendships and memories we have made, and all the many adventures that are still to come.

What a wonderful club this is… happy 10th birthday Plurabelle Paddlers – and here’s to the next 10 years.