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Inspired by friend, pink ladies dig deep

The Tampa Pink Dragon Ladies inspire each other and fellow competitors every time they launch their dragon boat and begin paddling.

You see, each member has endured cancer and lived to tell about it. At a time when they could be home, recovering, they team together.

With most members having had mastectomies, the physical activity helps with recovery. The camaraderie powers their mental healing.

"You don't want to be laying in a bed being sick from cancer," Verna Nasrallah said. "You have to get your energy from somewhere, and this is a fun place to get it with a nice bunch of women."

These ladies, however, have proven they're not just out for a Sunday river cruise.

In Windsor, Ontario, this summer, they approached the starting line with heavy hearts. One of their most inspiring members, Carol Lee Banks, became too ill to participate and went back to the hotel. The group's first fundraising chairwoman, Banks also serves as an assistant coach, mentor and overall team favorite.

With Carol on their minds, they heard a song playing at a riverside party: Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline.

"We had dedicated the race to Carol," explained Kathleen Cabble, a member and former Times photographer. "So when we heard that song, the whole boat started singing, 'Sweet Carol Lee, bump, bump, bump.'

"Then we started chanting, 'Car-ol Lee. Car-ol Lee.' "

The team became a picture of focus and concentration when the race started. In dragon boats, each member attempts to extend herself beyond the pain and fatigue into what Cabble calls a "near Zen" state. Twenty paddlers become one, almost oblivious to their surroundings.

"It's just an aura," said founding member Liz O'Connell.

So the ladies didn't really notice they were leading. In a sport where races can be decided by hundredths of a second, they finished four seconds ahead of the nearest boat in their heat.

"People were jumping up and down," Cabble said. "I had people come up to me and saying, 'You made us cry.' "

The Pink Dragon Ladies had produced a personal best time of 2 minutes, 10 seconds — a full 13 seconds ahead of the time they had turned in the day before. They won their division and placed seventh overall out of 88 co-ed teams.

Banks cried when she heard how well the team had done.

"That's the good and the bad part of all of this," O'Connell said. "We have to deal with those situations."

On Thursday, the ladies announced that female cancer survivor dragon boat teams at next May's Tampa Bay International Dragon Boat Race Festival will vie for the Carol Lee Cup. Local oncologist and longtime Pink Dragon supporter Kathryn Kepes sponsors the award.

• • •

Members attended this morning's 10th annual Komen Florida Suncoast Race For The Cure at Vinoy Park.

For the 12,000 participants, it's a chance to raise more than $1-million for research.

For the Pink Dragon Ladies, it's an opportunity to spread the joy of their sport.

"There's a lot of good things about this disease, if you can survive it," Cabble said. "If you make it, you get to give back what you were given, which is love, support and joy."

I think she left out courage.

That's all I'm saying.

Inspired by friend, pink ladies dig deep 10/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 12, 2008 6:09pm]
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