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Strength of the Dragon


(To view our November/December 2019 issue of ClubWEST online, click here.)

By By Joanne McDonald

Dragon boaters don’t worry about what’s behind them.

“We focus on what’s ahead. We focus on the finish line,” says Lorraine Martin, sharing as one the thoughts of every breast cancer survivor who dips a paddle in perfect sync with her sisters in the competitive sport of dragon boat racing.

Both on the water and in life, it’s true for every member of the Knot A Breast (KAB) dragon boat team. They never look back.

“We look forward to see what’s coming and anything is possible,” Martin said.

They have the strength of the dragon.

It’s one thing to read about dragons and quite another to meet them. World champion athletes, KAB dragon boaters Martin, a Beamsville resident, Kim Short of Smithville and Judy-Anne Sleep of Grimsby are empowered by the demanding sport and they inspire others who are going through the same journey.

They have stood on the podium multiple times as athletes and winners. They are a spirited bunch. They are fiercely competitive.

And this summer, they’ll be on the water in France to compete for the 2020 Club Crew world title.

This past July, KAB won first place at the 2019 Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships on Wascana Lake in Regina, Saskatchewan. And with that win they earned a berth to compete in August at the 2020 International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) Club Crew World Championships in Aix-les-Bains, France.

This is one competitive group of athletes and all the hard work has paid off.

“It’s a whole other level for us,” said Martin. “We won the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission (IBCPC) three times in a row, 2010 in Peterborough, 2014 in Florida, and 2018 in Italy, and now look forward to the challenge of the Club Crew world championships.”

In 2010, KAB placed first overall in the International Breast Cancer Participatory Festival held in Peterborough. They won the title in Sarasota, Florida in 2014, and in 2018, won a hard fought battle to again defend the title at the IBCPC Festival in Florence, Italy.

Martin and Sleep shared their very first paddle on the Henley course in St. Catharines in 2006.

“It poured buckets,” said Sleep, recalling their efforts to bail out the boat at the start and finish line.

“Just when you thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it did.” She had just finished breast cancer treatment when she set out for the brand new adventure.

Sleep’s husband Blyn was more than a little uncertain about the risks that day and brought his own boat out to keep a close eye. “It’s like the 401 out there,” he told Judy-Anne, nervous for her safety.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into. I’d never seen a dragon boat before.” But it wasn’t long before Blyn was calling the beauty of the sport “poetry in motion,” and has since been driving the safety boat at every event.

For Sleep it was an overture to an addicting love of the sport and she met women who had been there for each other through really tough times. “You never really know what you can do until you do it.”

For Martin, sports was something her sisters did. “It wasn’t until I started dragon boating that I realized how competitive I could be.”

“We were the newbies and our veteran team members cheered us on, convincing us that we could do it and believing we could be strong.”

Word of mouth brought Short to the team in 2016. “I was looking for something to do physically after recovering from breast cancer treatment and was intrigued by the sport.”

“Being with other women who had gone through a similar experience and wanting to move forward and feel stronger, I had no idea how passionate I would become about the sport and also how attached I would become to these incredible people,” Short said.

For the dragon boaters it’s a floating support group. But when they’re on the water, Short says, they are training like athletes and competing like athletes.

“This allows us to put the medical experience in the background and we move forward.” But they know they have the connection with each other when they need it.

It’s also a support connection for team members’ partners. “Often the people who support you are struggling as well,” Short said.

“It’s like having an extended a family and 44 extra sisters,” says Lorraine’s husband Jim Martin. “They all have their own stories of how they’ve dealt with surgery and radiation and now they’ve stepped up and they’re not just survivors, they’re athletes. It’s a transition you have to see to believe. They’re quite the crew.”

The crew of the dragon boat consists of 20 paddlers in pairs facing toward the bow of the boat, one drummer or caller at the bow facing toward the paddlers, and one steerer standing at the rear of the boat.

“To have success you need to be working in synch. We paddle together, we have one stroke together and it’s one heart together,” Short said.

On the water, all eyes are on their fearless leader Kathy Levy who founded the KAB dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors in 1998 and has since been the inspiration for every dragon boater on the team.

“Kathy is small but mighty. She has big dreams and she believes in us. She believes in us and that allows us to believe in ourselves.”

“We can see huge transformations. We believe in ourselves and we believe in each other and that gives us the strength to survive and strive,” Short said.

“Kathy is all of our inspiration,” said Sleep.

The Wascana Lake setting for the Canadian Nationals was absolutely beautiful Short said of the July competition with six teams from across Canada that earned them the berth for the 2020 Club Crew world championship races.

The first day the winds were so high the races were cancelled. “The girls were set to race on the Friday but didn’t get on the water.”

They had gone through the warm ups and mental preparation only to be sent home. There were no breast cancer races scheduled for the Saturday. The pressure was on for the Sunday and they won the final 500 metre race.

“We knew we had a good start,” Short said. Levy was in position in the bow, “so we can see her face. She is the one who is coaching and can see the positions of the other boats. We focus on looking forward and staying in stroke.”

“When you get halfway, my job is to call for power, which I did about three time in the race and everybody digs in harder.”

About 30 strokes out the coach calls for the finish. There is a simultaneous change in the body position of the team, “leaning forward and pulling as much water as you can.”

“Kathy is tiny but she has a huge voice on the water. And we just know to stay focused and do whatever she asks to the best of our ability.”

“At the end of the race, gasping for air we looked at Kathy and saw her smile. We knew we had won.”

“By then you are exhausted, you leave it all on the water,” Short says. “We have a saying…you need to know when you get up out of that boat, you’ve left it all on the water. You’ve emptied the tank.

The KAB dragon boaters are a diverse group of women but they share the same life-changing experience of breast cancer and the dragon boat is a symbol of their survivorship and strength.
The team has about 40 members with ages ranging from 43 to 73. Some are 20-plus years survivors, others are just finishing cancer treatment and dealing with the side effects – they all have a seat in the boat.

“When you race at the Nationals you are trying to win a berth to go to the Club Crew world championships,” said Short. KAB will be competing against the top teams from around the world.
The KAB dragon boaters train year round, twice a week on the Hamilton Bay out of the Macassa Bay Yacht Club. “They are a great support for us,” Short said.

The KAB dragon boaters are in the tank every Saturday at the International Flatwater Centre in Welland, where they train with the Welland Warlocks and their coach former Olympian Doug Jones. They train as well at the Hamilton YWCA, developing technique and cardiovascular endurance and strength.

They’re up against teams that have year round access to water.

Even though they practice in the tank it’s not the same as on the water, learning to work together and manage water conditions, so the more practice they get the better.


KAB held its first meeting at the Breast Cancer Support Services office in Burlington, Ontario in 1998.

Starting with a small group of breast cancer survivors, Levy, also a survivor, formed the KAB dragon boat team in the fall of 1997.

Age, athletic ability and paddling experience did not matter.

The team was comprised solely of women ranging in age from 30-65.

The only criterion to membership on this unique team was that a person had a diagnosis of breast cancer.

They began water training in Hamilton at Bayfront Park in May, 1998 and are proud owners of two dragon boats docked at Macassa Bay Yacht Club in Hamilton.

They’ve since earned their place as top competitors traveling to local, national and international venues, promoting athleticism and sportsmanship at its best.


Breast cancer survivors’ dragon boating is an international movement inspired by the 1995 research of Dr. Don McKenzie, a Canadian sports medicine physician and exercise physiologist at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

“It is an approach to promoting health and raising breast cancer awareness that is driven by women with the disease. It reaches out to other women and offers them a message of hope and support. It is helping to change attitudes toward ‘life after breast cancer,’ and it encourages women to lead full and active lives. It is making a difference,” McKenzie said in a 1998 research paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

More than 160 Breast Cancer dragon boat teams are now paddling around the world, raising awareness with teams in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, United Kingdom and U.S.


KAB is a non-profit, breast cancer dragon boat team which receives excellent community support in a range of areas:

  • City of Hamilton, financial support;
  • Macassa Bay Yacht Club, Bayfront Park in Hamilton for providing docking facilities, clubhouse;
  • Dr. David R. Levy, McMaster University, David Braley Sport Medicine & Rehabilitation Centre for treating the sprains and strains;
  • Tim Hortons, Dave and Maureen at 136 Kenilworth Ave. N., Hamilton for providing coffee at practices;
  • YWCA Hamilton for the opportunity to train at the indoor pool and gym; and
  • Burlington Fitness & Racquet Club for access to the fitness centre.

For more information visit the website at knotabreast.com

Prevention Key

(To view our July/August 2019 issue of ClubWEST online, click here.)

For Fire Chief of The Year – Mike Cain
By Mike Williscraft

It’s not easy bucking a 100-year trend, but Grimsby Fire Chief Mike Cain has been doing exactly that.

Not only has he been going against the grain of traditional beliefs and traditional views of firefighting, he had significant success.

This success drew the attention of the Ontario Municipal Fire Prevention Officers Association, which bestowed the 2019 Fire Chief of the Year Award on Cain during its annual convention last month.

“I was very surprised,” said Cain from his office at Grimsby Fire Station 1.

The question is, though, should he have been?

Granted, there are 440 municipalities in the Province of Ontario with fire departments, so there was plenty of competition, but few, if any, have the varied background, employment history and intensely consistent history of driving home the point that prevention is THE way to go when it comes to firefighting.

For Cain, it is not about the great things firefighters do when actually battling intense flames and smoke-enveloped buildings – although he is quick to heap kudos to his dedicated crew. It is about education, awareness and planning which can prevent fires, injury and death.

He has seen all that in his decades of service to Grimsby Fire, which goes back 30 years to when he started as a volunteer firefighter.

While most people in town would recognize Cain through his work with the department, the fact is he had several careers before getting into senior roles with Grimsby Fire.

After growing up in St. Catharines and graduating from Sir Winston Secondary School, Cain graduating from Fanshawe College (Construction Engineering Technology); Dalhousie University (Certificate in Fire Service Leadership, a Specialty in Human Resource Management), and; Brock University (Certificate in NextGen Municipal Leadership Program). These do not include the plethora or one-off courses related to firefighting.

When just out of school, Cain started his own home renovation company, which operated from 1983-1989, then he took a position with Town of Lincoln as a building and plumbing inspector.

After working for one year as a consultant in Toronto, Cain returned to a Town of Grimsby job, again as a building and plumbing inspector.

When a position at a prestigious consulting firm came up – the firm which develops the fire safety codes which Cain now lives by – Cain had to take the shot, and he did, going to work as a technical consultant there for two years.

Two more years of the Toronto commute proved enough, and Cain seized the opportunity to return to Grimsby as the chief fire prevention officer. After two years in that position it was on to the Deputy Fire Chief position (2004-2009) and was promoted to Fire Chief in 2009.

That education and work history barely scratches the surface of his six-page resume but it gives one an understanding of just how long the road to knowledge can be. Cain’s varied background in the building trade gives him an excellent understanding of how structures are put together and, by extension, how to strategize when fighting an active blaze.

But all the knowledge in the world, on occasion, still does not help.

Case in point, the infamous blaze which destroyed three buildings in downtown Grimsby in 2017.

“That was preventable,” said Cain.

And prevention was the only way that fire could have been stopped given the century old construction with which they were built. That fire burned from a fence in the rear of one building expanding its way up into the roof and walls in no time. Once it accessed those locations, it proved impossible for firefighters to get ahead of it and the operation became damage control as the structures were reduced to rubble over the course of an afternoon.

“Emergency respone, suppression has a 100-year tradition unimpeded by change,” said Cain.

“We have great suppression crews, highly respected, and as well they should be, but the best way to improve fire safety is through prevention.”

While it may seem like simple common sense, it is a bumpy road to navigate since the reputation of firefighters generally precedes them in the community.

“Firefighters are heroes by reacting to circumstance,” said Cain, “and, on occasion, they do amazing things.”

“But far more lives can be saved through prevention. It has taken a long time to get this belief embraced.”

This difficulty comes from the general public, those in the industry and even in municipal governments.

“When budgets are set, typically, money goes into suppression. We have tried to reverse the traditional paradigm. Fire code enforcement and prevention are key,” notes Cain.

When completing a nomination for Chief of The Year, Grimsby’s fire prevention officer, Paul Kucharuk, cited 24 different programs the department utilizes all to raise awareness and drive home the need for prevention to young and old alike.

As well, it is noted that Cain implemented a policy under which all volunteer firefighters are trained as fire and life safety educators so no matter which firefighter gets asked a question – whether it be during their presence at the Grimsby Farmers’ Market or at a stop in a grocery store, everyone in the department would be able to field questions in a knowledgable manner.

Cain sees the prevention initiatives as akin to the ancient Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

If prevention programming is working, it should result in a reduced call workload on the department.

2004 – more than 900 calls
2018 – less than 600 calls

“We will never stop fires. As long as people occupy buildings, stuff will happen,” noted Cain.

“It’s what you do about it that will ultimately determine long-term successes.”

Among the initiatives Grimsby has implemented is a detailed awareness program as part of its annual open house during Fire Prevention Week in October.

As noted in Cain’s nomination: “Grimsby holds a Fire Safety Day annually in September and it is a huge success with 800 plus in attendance. The entire fire department participates! Children learn fire safety through various stations such as Get Out Safely, Stop Drop and Roll, Calling 9-1-1. Adults learn kitchen safety, escape plans, importance of working smoke and CO alarms and fire extinguishing training. A live burn demonstrates how quickly fire spreads. Fire safety materials promoting the NFPA prevention week theme are available to the children and adults. A Fire Safety Day is not complete without a BBQ. All free to our citizens sponsored by the Grimsby Fire Department! Local news media advertises the event and attends taking photos for print media.”

It should not be lost on the community that the Fire Safety Day is held within the confines of Grimsby’s Station 2 – another aspect of the chief ’s planning.

“Fire Chief Cain had a vision. His vision of building a Training Facility began in 2007 when he was Deputy Chief. He endlessly pursued this vision and finally gained the support of Town Council in 2015 when they committed to sharing in his vision. In May 2017, Chief Cain’s vision became reality with the grand opening of the Grimsby Regional Training Centre (GRTC). The GRTC was designed with Fire Station 2 on one side and training facility on the other. The interior training side houses four classrooms, commercial kitchen and a lab, while the exterior training facilities include a training tower and eight burn cells with an additional area for vehicle extrication and vehicle fire investigation. GRTC is referred to as the ‘Centre of Fire Prevention and Public Education Excellence’. Based on Chief Cain’s belief that fire prevention is the future of our industry, GRTC (and for 2 years before its establishment) has been offering training to the fire services and Grimsby’s community partners and organizations,” reads his nomination form.

“It’s about modifying people’s behaviour reprioritization, just as we did with the blue box programs,” Cain pointed out, adding it was many years before recycling efforts had any support, but now there are grey and green boxes added to the program for cardboard/boxes and compostable materials respectively.

Part of the problem is people can be somewhat lazy in their consideration of implementing fire safety measures, often due to historic successes of firefighters.

“People are very confident in their suppression crews, and they should be. They

think, ‘they’ll save me’,” said Cain.

But just as times change and it would be wise to shift focus to prevention, this thinking should be magnified by the knowledge of how today’s buildings are constructed.

Bringing his vast knowledge of building structure to the fore, Cain cited many design elements and changes in materials which make fighting fires in modern structures much more difficult and even a relatively small fire potentially deadly.

From the publisher January/february 2019


(To view our January/February 2019 issue of ClubWEST online, click here.)

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Benjamin Franklin

There are people with hobbies and then there is John Sedgwick.

John is the embodiment of what we love to showcase with ClubWest Magazine. Our goal, from the outset, has been to tell the stories of those whose passions, pursuits and past times dominate their lives.

After 60 years of honing his marquetry skills, one could surmise John has a passion for his craft.

And he is awesome at it!

Countless people invest all kinds of time, money and effort in the things which interest them – and as well they should.

Life’s distractions are what keep things interesting.

Not everyone obtains a level of expert or even good at some of the things they do, and it does not matter one bit.

Take a beer league hockey…some may be better than others, but so what. It does not change either’s love for the sport or the joy extracted from a night of skating and camaraderie before and after the game.

It is quite likely there are others who have the same sort of passion for marquetry – defined as: a technique where various wood veneers are precisely cut to create a design. Yes, I had to look it up to be sure I understood.

However, John has developed his skills to a master craftsman level. That goes far beyond the level of an occasional workshop jockey. And good on him!

Even our contributors fit that passion mold. Our travel writer, Lorraine Simpson, and our Chef in Residence, Jan-Willem Stulp, are two perfect examples of people who have a passion for something and opted to make a career out of it.

As well, Joanne McDonald, much like myself, wasn’t just bitten by the writing bug. We were consumed by it.

All of us love what we do. Speaking for myself, I cannot imagine doing anything else.

In the writing game, it is difficult to attain a true standing as a master of anything. You are only as good as your last story.

Lorraine has travelled the world filling a suitcase with an immense and intimate knowledge of some of the best places to see, stay and enjoy. Jan-Willem? Just read his articles and you can see how personal creating tasty dishes is for him.

Much of what he does and how he does it ties to his upbringing and experience for European flair but with LOCAL ingredient influences.

People love this little magazine because of the unique stories we tell of people who are putting a great deal into life, told by people who love what they are doing.

It shows.

Publisher, ClubWest Magazine
Mike Williscraft