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‘We’re here:’ Breast cancer survivor team competes at KC Dragon Boat Festival

KC Pink Warriors at Dragon Boat Competition

The KC Pink Warriors is an all female breast cancer survivors dragon boat team. They competed for the first time at the KC Dragon Boat Festival Saturday against Johnson County Community College.
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The KC Pink Warriors is an all female breast cancer survivors dragon boat team. They competed for the first time at the KC Dragon Boat Festival Saturday against Johnson County Community College.

The Kansas City Pink Warriors swerved down Brush Creek Saturday, often turning accidentally, as they competed against Johnson County Community College in the Kansas City Dragon Boat Festival at Brush Creek.

The team of 20 breast cancer survivors lost the race in a big way, but that didn’t seem to bother them.

“We’re here,” Michelle Steger, founder of the team said.

And they’re not going anywhere.

The women have been practicing for two months on rowing equipment, but Saturday was only the second time they’d rowed in the water.

“It wasn’t perfect but we’ll get there,” said team member Shalena Prude.

The team is composed of about 20 women who are either currently battling breast cancer or went into remission sometime in the last two to 19 years, Prude said.

The women said they were drawn to the team because it connected them with a sisterhood of women who understood what cancer had put them through and is still putting them through.

“It was literally the opportunity for me to connect with sisters in a meaningful way because they know my journey and what I was going through,” Prude said. “It’s still an opportunity for us to talk about our affliction, our triumphs, even the ramifications from breast cancer ... and that’s important for us to still continually support one another as a community.”

Prude said these women understand her “200%” because of their shared experience.

The sport also helps the women get in shape and gain back strength that they lost due to cancer.

“This is just a way for us to turn a negative experience into a positive experience together and help each other survive and encourage a healthy lifestyle going forward,” Steger said.

Steger formed the team in April. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 1/2 years ago and found a support group in the Tampa Bay Pink Dragon Ladies dragon boat team.

As a member of the team she said she traveled to Florence, Italy to compete in the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission championships.

When she moved to Kansas City, Steger said she knew no survivors in the area and decided to start a Kansas City team.

“Kansas City breast cancer survivors deserve it,” Steger said.

The team is working toward competing in that same international competition in 2022. Until then they plan to dedicate every race to a woman in the Kansas City area currently battling cancer.

“Every race will have a name, every race will have a purpose and it will propel us,” Steger said. “Cause we’re there for our sisters, and brothers.”

The Pink Warriors currently practice at We Build 4 Life in Lenexa but they are hoping to buy a boat and find a lake to practice in soon.

Their next competition is in Iowa on Aug. 8.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.

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