Kathy is a nurse and manager of a Sports Medicine Clinic, an occasional snowbird who migrates seasonally from Hamilton, ON., Canada to Sarasota, Florida, a woman who had breast cancer, Founder and Coach of Knot A Breast dragon boat team, two-time world champion of the IPBC dragon boat races, and mentor to Survivors In Sync, the newly formed dragon boat team of Sarasota, Florida.
Kathy has been in the grassroots of Breast Cancer dragon boat racing. This sport grew out of a study to disprove the theory that women, treated with surgery and radiation for breast cancer, should avoid strenuous upper body exercise for fear that they would develop lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm. This study was started by Dr. Don McKenzie in 1995 in Vancouver, Canada, where he started the 1st BCDB team. In 1998, Kathy founded Knot A Breast dragon boat team, becoming the 9th such team in Canada and the 1st team in the world to have a man join. I am fortunate enough to be on the newly formed Sarasota dragon boat team, Survivors In Sync (SIS), a team established by Angela Long in 2013. Kathy Levy took us under her coaching wing when she was in Sarasota, Florida. No boat? No problem. Sitting at her community pool with paddles, she taught us the infamous A frame paddling technique. Kathy is a small-stature person with a lot of spit fire and a voice the size of a lions roar. When she is in the boat with us, it is serious business. She created a team of athletes. She brought team camaraderie and spirit like no other. I think this is her secret ingredient in developing the world's winning team. Let's dig a little deeper into the energy that Kathy brings to her coaching.
Q: Coach Kathy, it has been said you have so much determination to develop an athletic team. What brought this quality out in you?
A: A couple of things have most likely contributed to my determination. Firstly, I was always small and have had health challenges since my preteen years and was told that I "couldn't do this" or "shouldn't do that." That was always a red cape in front of me, as I was always determined to 'never give up, never give in'. Secondly, Knot A Breast, like all breast cancer dragon boat teams, is made up of proud, brave and determined women who came together after being faced with a terrible reality and put through treatments that take an awful toll on their very being. They are there to prove to themselves, to their families, and to all who are witness that they can lead a full and happy life after a diagnosis of breast cancer. We come together as a floating support group but I have always felt that, on land we are a support group but on water we are athletes. We have fun but we push ourselves and each other and feel better after each practice than we did before practice started. I've always wanted others to see us for what we are, not "survivors," but athletes.
Q: Being a two time champion of the world breast cancer dragon boat races, is there one quality that you think made your team a winning team?
A: I really think that it's the camaraderie and the process that has helped us to succeed. We don't start the season thinking about race outcomes. Coming from Canada, with a shorter on-water training season and racing season, we get into our boats just excited to get back to the sport that we love. It's infectious and as a group we seem to thrive on it. Each practice is about the process of getting a little better, improving our technique, learning from each other and learning to trust each other. It's about coming together as a group of individuals and learning to paddle as one. We did not enter the 2010 world championship thinking that we might win, and we certainly did not come to Sarasota with any delusions of repeating this incredible feat. We just got out there, did our best, trusted our teammates, paddled as never before and tried to improve with each outing. We were extremely fortunate to finish as we did. It was such a wonderful event in Sarasota. I feel that ALL of the women who competed or watched their teammates compete were winners in that LARGER battle that we constantly fight.
Q: It seems that your husband is a big part of your dragon boat races. How much has he influenced your coaching and racing decision?
A: David has always encouraged me to follow my dreams and given me the unwavering support to achieve them. We have worked together daily in our sport medicine clinic for more than 30 years. He knows me well and knows my passion. He respects my need to follow the path that breast cancer dragon boating has lead me on and he is happy to help our team in any way he can – as a husband, an enthusiastic spectator, and the team's sports medicine physician.
Q: Did you start paddling in your boat or coaching? You also take the drum seat and steer, explain how you started with dragon boating.
A: When I started the team in 1998, I was a complete novice. I knew nothing about the sport. My best friend showed me an article about a sports medicine doc in Vancouver and the study that he did with a group of breast cancer patients to disprove the myth that upper extremity exercise would lead to complications, such as lymphedema. I worked in sports medicine and with athletes all day long, but at that time, I really wasn't one myself. Dragon boating changed that. David knew Dr. McKenzie, so I was able to speak with him. I started a team and managed to find a coach. I had to learn to paddle properly for dragon boating, and was a paddler for years. I then learned to steer, as we realized that we needed to have a "survivor" steering the breast cancer races. I went to training camps to learn and grow as a steers person, and as a drummer. I loved the experience. I was fortunate to work with many great coaches and gleaned what I could from each of them. I eventually had the courage to try coaching. It's an ongoing process as I am always learning and growing. I learn from beginning paddlers and from seasoned coaches. The learning and the growing what keeps me going. Each and every teammate on every team I'm associated with helps me to grow and love this sport even more!
Q: Is there anything you would like to add for our readers / audience?
A: Breast cancer dragon boat teams are a lot of fun. They include wives, mothers, workers, and housewives, many of whom have never given themselves the time to take care of themselves. Dragon boating provides opportunity to not just get fit, but to become part of a special family of ATHLETES. The growth is great, the experience is wonderful, but it is not without its heartaches. To join a team means you've been given a life-changing sentence. As part of the team, you share both the highs and the lows. The lows inevitably touch all of us, as a teammate loses her battle with this terrible disease. It affects us all, it reminds us all and it binds us all. It's the stuff that makes 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steer person ‘one’. It can be a rough ride, but a great one. I have to believe that this sport gives much more than it takes.