Cancer survivors continue recovery on Unsinkable dragon boat

Unsinkables Team Photo

The Unsinkables dragon boat team is a fierce group of women. More than half of the paddlers are cancer survivors — and all the members have been affected by cancer in some way. The team’s primary goal is to bring together cancer survivors and their support people through dragon boating.

The team’s head coach, Julie B., met a fellow cancer survivor, Patty S., at a Salem Health support group for women with cancer. Together, they created the Unsinkables.

“I know how much camaraderie helps people get through difficult circumstances,” Julie says. “Being involved in team sports my whole life has shown me the power of camaraderie. We wanted to create a group that focused on support and healing while being active.”

Photo of team founders Julie B (left) and Patty S (right)

The Unsinkables began in 2015 with a group of only seven women. Now, their roster is more than four times bigger; enough to fill a 50-foot long dragon boat.

Being part of the Unsinkables has had a profound emotional effect on some of these women. But for breast cancer survivors, it’s also had an especially positive physical impact. These women in particular experienced increased flexibility and improved immune systems. As it turns out, paddling is an exceptional exercise for anyone recovering from breast cancer.

Each year for the past four years, the team participates in a Cancer Survivors specialty race at the Portland Dragon Boat Festival. During this race, everyone on the Unsinkables' boat is a cancer survivor. Those who are not cancer survivors step off the boat to make room for cancer survivors from other teams. This allows survivors from other teams to be part of a survivors-only race. It also provides the experience of receiving recognition as a survivor.

Some of these women show up consistently for practice, but skip the competitions. “Our focus is on health, healing and hope,” Patty says. “Some team members are here for support and not for winning races. And that’s OK!”

Unsinkables rowing on the Willamette River

Dragon boating is at their core, but support happens off the water too. The Unsinkables meet for off-the-water events like yoga, taco Tuesdays, potlucks and the Discover Pink Walk.

“Having a true support group is what the Unsinkables is all about,” Julie explains. “Sure, we could meet for practice once a week and only talk then. But cancer is constant. We meet multiple times a week, on and off the water, because we’re a constant support group.”

The Unsinkables have plans to continue their growth. Julie never stops networking with the dragon boating community and Salem Health’s cancer support groups. Her networking ensures that cancer survivors have a place to continue healing. While cancer is always in the back of these paddlers’ minds, friendship and hope are often at the front.

Their next race is later this month on June 29th at the World Beat Festival at Salem’s Riverfront Park. Races begin at 9 a.m.

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The Unsinkables is always on the lookout for others to join them — both on and off the water. To get involved, visit