We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another of my Venetian dreams comes true

For several years now, whenever I watch one of the boating events associated with one of Venice's festivals, for example the Regata Storica or Vogalonga, I have seen this group of local women dressed in pink rowing in a dragon boat with the name Pink Lionesses.  The photo below was from the Carnevale event in Cannaregio canal in 2013.  Every time I've watched them row, I wished I could be rowing with them. Today that wish came true.

A few months ago, I decided to try to see if I might join their group. There was an email address on their website listed as a contact, so I sent off a message. I got back a response inviting me to attend a holiday dinner they were having. Unfortunately, timing didn't work out for us, so I did not connect on that occasion. 

About 2 weeks ago, I decided I should take another try at contacting them. I shot off another email. This time I received a response inviting me to come row with them that Friday.  As my luck would have it, I wasn't free then either. So I responded with my thanks and asked if I might get a rain check some other day soon.  Yesterday I double checked my calendar, I was going to be free the following day, a day the ladies have a practice row. I sent off an email to Donatella,  the woman who had responded the last time, asking if I might come on Wednesday.  I got back a "Yes!".  I was instructed to show up at the Bucintoro rowing club in the Maggazino del Sale on the Zattere at 3 pm, wearing sweats and tennis shoes. 

Excited and elated, I set off for the Maggazino del Sale on the 4.2 vaporetto today.  I had had zero experience rowing this kind of boat, but was eager and willing to learn. Just as I was arriving, a few other women were also walking in the door, wearing pink jackets. Easy to recognize.I was in the right place. A few seconds later, Donatella entered the room and walked right up to me smiling a huge smile. After brief introductions, I got the two kisses on the cheeks welcome! Then Donatella sits me down and says we need to talk.  She explained that the requirement to be a member of the Pink Lionesses is that you must be a Breast Cancer surgery survivor.  I knew the group was associated with supporting survivors of Breast Cancer, but I didn't know you had to be a survivor. I thought supporting the cause would be enough. I also thought they had a large number of members. They have 15 members here in Venice. 

Donatella went on to explain more about the organization, and how rowing is a very therapeutic way to recover from breast cancer surgery. Sadly, since I had not had breast cancer surgery, I could not be a member. After thanking Donatella for her time, I was about to head for the door. She gave me her big smile again and said, "But come row with us today. Let's see how you do."  She took me upstairs to meet the other Pink Lionesses, they lent me a pink jacket, outfitted me with an oar and a pink life jacket, and we went outside to get the dragon boat into the water. 

Here are 5 of the women in the boat about to be lowered into the Giudecca canal.  A few women go into the water with the boat, then they row around to the next canal where everyone else boards the boat. I got the last seat, partnered with Donatella.  She gave me some tips about how to make the correct stroke with the paddle in the water. Before I knew it, off we went.

I caught on quickly. This is much easier than rowing in the Venetian style standing up.  In the dragonboat, you sit down, like a canoe. There is one person in the tail end steering and yelling out instructions. Francesco, the young man handling that job was fantastic, as were all the women rowing with me today.

There is something special about being in a boat rowing down the Grand Canal. I could barely believe I was actually there, doing something I'd only dreamed of.   As vaporettos and gondolas with passengers passed us, everyone cheered and applauded the pink lionesses.  I wanted to cheer for them myself, but I had a paddle in my hand that needed to be dealt with.

We headed up the Grand Canal towards Rialto. When we got under the Rialto bridge, the women all shouted "Ciao, Ragazze!"  Donatella leaned over to explain they were giving a special tribute to all the other women who had not survived their battle against breast cancer.

As we approached San Marcuolo, we slowed the pace and came to a halt. Each pair of women, starting with the first row, then proceeding row by row to the back, exchanged places on their bench. Donatella explained the changing of positions allows each woman to exercise the muscles in both shoulders and arms each time they practice. Right after we switched positions, we turned the boat around and headed back towards Dorsoduro.

We rowed for an hour and a half.  The women talked and joked amongst themselves as they rowed, but I was afraid if I got in on the banter I'd lose my concentration and wouldn't keep up with the pace of rowing. We made our way back to the canal where we'd boarded the boat to disembark.  As we helped one another out of the boat, each of the women asked me how I liked it and if I was tired. My shoulders were feeling it a little, but I just loved every minute of it.

After every row, the boat is washed before it is put away. I got to join in on the clean up activities too. It was a little sad to have to take off my pink life preserver and jacket.

 There are almost no words to describe how honored I was today to be welcomed by  and to be in the midst of this group of courageous, strong,  beautiful women, and to be allowed to share in something so special. I could not, and would never understand the struggle these women have gone through and continue to face on a daily basis.

As I said my goodbyes, the women called out "Come row with us on Friday!"


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you had that experience. Do you think that last comment "Come row with us on Friday" is your chance to at least practice with them? I had no idea they were all breast cancer survivors.

I agree that type of rowing seems much easier than the Venetian style.

Kaye said...

One must be courageous and try new things to keep on enjoying life; congratulations!!!

karen said...

Grazie, Kaye. The Pink Lionesses are the true courageous ones.

karen said...

Yvonne- i have no doubt I just goe very lucky.I don't expect I'd be able to row with them, but I sure would love to!

No comparison to voga style rowimg!!! however, I keep reminding myself of the shoulder and upper arm muscles needed for rowing, and now know that this is a massive work out for the Pink Lionesses who need to rebuild muscle tone. Hats off to these incredible ladies, and their counterparts around the globe.

Andrew said...

Thanks for doing this. You could do it in Cheryl's name as she's a breast cancer survivor!

Carol said...

Thank you for this lovely and inspiring story. While I have been to Venice and seen the Vogalonga many times, I did not know the story of the Pink Lionesses. I would "qualify" to join their select crew, but I doubt my rowing ability (or lack thereof) would endear me to the other ladies. Auguri for pursuing such a special dream!

Amanda said...

What a fantastic experience for you, and how beautifully you write about it. It makes me happy to learn that these women have each other for support.

Thanks for bringing this aspect of 'everyday' Venice and the camaraderie of a wonderful group of women to life. They deserve the cheers of passersby

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn said...

Wow, that's amazing, Karen. What a fantastic experience!

karen said...

Grazie, Lindsay. I have had a flood of emails today about this post. I'm so thrilled this touched so many people. I know it certainly touched my heart.

karen said...

Thanks, Amanda! Keep your eyes out for them on the canals of Venice! They are such an inspiration. I am honored to be able to write about them. Cross your fingers I'm able to row with them again some day.

karen said...

Grazie, Carol! They wouldn't care about your expertise. They told me none of them had every done anything like this before. Next time you are in Venice, contact them to do a row with them, I bet they would be thrilled to have you along.

karen said...

Grazie, Andrew! Perhaps Cheryl could go out for a row with them next time you are here! I wish they would let me row in her name, I'd be so thrilled.

Capturing Venice said...

What a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

Such a fantastic experience!! So thrilled for you. Thank you for sharing it!!!

Kaye said...

This is an inspiring story Karen, but you truly are fortunate not to have had breast cancer in order to join this group. I myself am a breast cancer survivor (total right mastectomy 2008) and although I was unable to take up dragon boating, I know the journey these women are taking to restore their body and soul.. Good for you for celebrating their spirit.