From the moment you’re in the company of Dorset’s Pink Champagne dragon boat team, you can’t fail to notice the bond between them. But it’s not just the usual camaraderie you would associate with a group of people united by a passion for a particular sport – it goes much deeper than that. For there is one thing these women, of all ages, and from all walks of life, have in common, and that’s breast cancer.

The Pink Champagne team was formed in 2008 to help women who have completed their course of cancer treatment regain their fitness. Today there are two dragon boats and around 35 members, many of whom are now competing around the world. At the end of last year (2014) they were among 102 teams racing each other at the International Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival in Sarasota, Florida. Pink Champagne was also the first cancer team to compete in the Henley Winter Regatta in 2013.

“None of us knew each other before we joined the team – it was cancer that brought us together,” says team member Christine Bailey. Fellow paddler Janet Long joined six years ago.

“I was never sporty – but I heard about the group via the hospital when I was enrolled on a 12-week aftercare exercise programme. Paddling is good for people with lymphedema (potential side effect of breast cancer surgery) because it helps to improve the blood circulation. I find it quite addictive – it really gets your adrenaline going. I couldn’t imagine not being part of the team now.”

Val Birrell agrees. “I really enjoy being part of a team – everyone working in unison together.” The team meets at their base at Hengistbury Head every Saturday morning and twice a week in the summer.

“We paddle even when it’s raining,” says Christine. “It’s only if there is very strong wind or the tide is against us that stops us going out on the water. We will still do some exercise, maybe a walk around Hengistbury Head, but we always end up with tea and cake.”

Jane Young says she notices that she stiffens up if she misses several training sessions.

“All of us have had surgery of some description so the health benefits are fantastic. Some members would probably be sat at home not doing so much otherwise. But it’s not just the physical side, it is the sense of mental wellbeing that you get from it too which is so important.”

Pink Champagne members also organise fundraising events through church talks, fashion shows and quiz nights. This year they produced their first calendar which sold out. Now the team is gearing up for a major competition in Hong Kong in June.

“It is the first time breast cancer teams have ever been invited. It’s important because we want to raise awareness in places like Asia.”

Although cancer is the background and there is help and support available for those that want it, most of the time, they say, it’s about enjoying life together.

Val explains: “We all know it is there, and that we are all going through the same thing, even though the experience is different for everyone, but people don’t dwell on it.”

Christine adds: “We want to show that there is life after cancer.”

Pink Champagne will host its annual fundraising dragon boat race on Sunday, June 7 from 10am to 5.30pm at the Hengistbury Head Outdoor Activity Centre. Professional Chinese dragon boat racers have been booked to take teams of up to 17. To enter a team, contact Ann on 07551 694072.

Visit for more information on the team, or visit Pink Champagne Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Team on Facebook