By Elaine Omann
It was Christmas in July in Carrabbas’ parking lot on the Southside where one could see lots red, green … and pink. In the Pink, a boutique for women living with cancer and the Mammoglams, the Jacksonville breast cancer dragonboat team, were under the pink tent supporting fundraising for special needs children in this community event on July 23 with Santa’s Special Kids and other businesses led by Carrabbas’ proprieter Mark Rojas.
In the Pink is a non-profit organized by Jeri Millard to meet the needs of breast cancer survivors. In late 2011 she formed the Mammoglams as a “floating support” for all breast cancer survivors. With community backing and funds, she raised enough to purchase two dragon boats (one in pink) and equipment trailers, paddles and lifejackets — and founded the Jacksonville Dragon Boat Club, which offers both competitive and recreational co-ed teams in addition to the all breast cancer team, the Mammoglams.
Millard said, “Never in my dreams did I believe the Mammoglams would become such a catalyst for fun and support for the breast cancer survivors. This is an amazing group of women who live by the motto, ‘We won the battle, now let’s paddle.’”
A dragonboat team is typically 20 paddlers, a drummer at the head of the dragon and the steersperson giving commands at the tail. The strokers in the first row set the pace and the paddlers are seated behind, balanced left to right and front to back, to paddle in sync cross the finish line in a 250- or 500-meter race.
Team coach Marty Millard said, “I feel that anyone can come in and begin to find their ability and progress from that point.”
His advice for the team is to continue to practice in the boat for skills, technique and race commands; the best command is “let it ride.”
Millard is compassionate, positive and understands the needs of survivors — but he can be tough. To get attention from the Mammoglams his best line is, “Okay, ladies, whenever you are ready, let me know.”
As a floating support group the “Mammos” help each other and support each other with breast cancer issues as well as life issues. The team members are all ages and years survival, with some at 20 or more and others just coming out of treatment or having to return to treatment.
The Mammoglams’ first race was a gold medal finish and since then they have competed in many races whenever their category is available. The most recent race resulted in a loss of the gold by .3 seconds to one of the Florida Coalition sister teams, but it serves as incentive to dig deeper, paddle harder and cross the finish line sooner the next time.
The International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission Festival was held for the first time in the United State in Sarasota, Fla. in October 2014. Thousands of breast cancer survivors in pink paddled together as tough competitors on the water and the best of friends off the water. The Mammoglams are preparing and fundraising to attend the next festival, to be held in Florence, Italy in 2018.
Next up for the Mammoglams is the Jacksonville Dragon Boat Festival, to be held at Metropolitan Park Marina on Sept. 24. The Mammoglams won their category last year and will be back to defend their title.
Photo courtesy Elaine Omann
Mammoglams take the gold at 2015 festival in Jacksonville.