By Gav McGrath
BEFORE breast cancer Helen Burzacott had never given dragon boat racing a second thought.
Now Ms Burzacott and fellow dragon boat paddlers and breast cancer survivors Kim Barker and Anne Stowe are three time silver medallists from an international competition.
The trio have returned from the Malaysia International Dragon Boat Festival and IDBF Cancer Survivors World Cup at Malacca and Putrajaya. They were part of the 38-member Australian Water Dragons team which took on 50 other crews from around the world. In three races they were beaten only by a team from Singapore - in one race by less than a second.
"It is a terrific achievement, especially given it is an open age event," Ms Burzacott said.
"We had a mix of ages but I think a lot of it is about technique and paddling well together as a team. And also a bit of guts and determination."
Anne is 59, Kim 67 and Helen is 69.
Helen and Anne have been paddling Dragon Boats for more than six years, while Kim is somewhat newer to the sport.
"I had no idea about it before I got cancer," Ms Burzacott said. "My family was so surprised I took it up because I don't swim. It is mandatory to have a personal flotation device and I have it with me like a safety blanket."
The combined festival and world cup regatta is one of the world's two largest Dragons Abreast events.
The largest - the Dragons Abreast International, which was last held in Toronto in 2010 - had about 2000 paddlers involved but was not strictly a competition.
"When we paddled in Canada they only had participation medals," Ms Burzacott said. "This is my first fair dinkum competition medal."
Day one's competition in Malaysia was a 250m race on the Melaka River, with crews of 12: a drummer, sweep (steerer) and 10 paddlers.
Day two was at Putrajaya over 500m, with the Australian Water Dragons second in both the 12 person crew and 22 person crew races.