Belles of the boat

The amaBele Belles will be participating in an intercontinental regatta in Spain next month.

The amaBele Belles, a dragon-boat racing team, is preparing for a boot camp in Spain next week.

Made up of breast cancer survivors, the amaBele Belles is the only dragon-boat team of its kind in South Africa.

Antoinette Bezuidenhout, 68, from Sunningdale is the oldest belle of the boat. Twelve years ago, she discovered a lump in her breast and had a lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation.

The radiation was tiring, Antoinette says, but she believes she is one of the lucky ones for having caught the cancer early.

“It was all a big shock, but my husband, Raymond, was amazing. He was very supportive and still is, and, of course, my children and friends are also a big support.”

It was during one of her radiation treatments that she first saw pictures of the amaBele Belles on the wall. Someone commented that she should join the team, but she laughed it off, saying she was a scared of water and not a good swimmer either. But by the following year, Antoinette was kitted out in the pink-and-black amaBele Belles uniform with paddle in hand.

“I’d never done any paddling before,” says Antoinette. Now she paddles with the team two to three times a week in the Cape Town harbour.

At first, the team was for cancer survivors only but it was later opened up to “supporters”.

“We found that there were gaps in the team when members had to go for surgery or reconstruction surgery, and we started welcoming supporters who are people who are not cancer survivors”.

At the moment, the team has 10 cancer survivors and seven supporters. There are also two male team members.

Another belle, Lenora Hammond, says dragon boating is a great sport for women who have had surgery and it helps to keep lymphedema – the tissue swelling that can be a side-effect of cancer treatment – at bay.

Lenora, who joined the amaBele Belles in 2011, had a double mastectomy in 2010. In 2015, the cancer recurred in her glands.

The amaBele Belles was founded by Pam Newby, a veteran dragon boater, in 2006, and the team has taken part in several regattas abroad.

“This year,” says Lenora, “the decision was taken to take part in a boot camp instead. It takes place in beautiful Torrevieja, a city in Spain’s south-eastern Alicante province, on the Costa Blanca. The emphasis will be on fitness, fun and friendship.”

The boot camp, in the first week of October, includes workshops on paddling, techniques and more.

Afterwards, the belles will show off their racing prowess in an intercontinental regatta — a first for an African team, says Lenora.

The belles have a 500m dragon boating regatta in Cape Town harbour on Saturday September and they leave for Spain on Thursday October 4. For more information about the amaBele Belles go to there Facebook page, or call Captain Merlin Osborne at 083 4758582 or 084 3502064