This was the first year the United States Dragon Boat Federation Club Crew Dragon Boat National Championships offered an All Cancer Survivor Division, giving Survivor Sake a chance to finally compete.

They returned from Colorado Springs with a bronze medal, and are now training for next year’s world championships in Aix-les-bains, France.

“That’s been kind of taking up a lot of our time, and we’ve had a few other kinds of events that were kind of fun competition-type things since that,” said Survivor SAKE co-captain Anne Marchand.

The Survivor SAKE dragon boat team has been paddling Lake Washington for nearly two decades, and is represented by cancer survivors at all stages of their fight against the deadly disease. Team Survivor Northwest created the dragon boat team in partnership with the Seattle SAKE Paddling Club almost 20 years ago.

And it’s taken about as long to get the United States Dragon Boat Federation to open competition to all cancer survivors.

“It was like we really have to just do our part by participating, taking this opportunity that they finally had given us,” Marchand said. “Since we medaled, everyone who medals at nationals gets a world berth.”

In order to compete, members of the Survivor SAKE crew had to be involved for at least six months, so those who started last season were unable to attend nationals. Now more paddlers will be able to compete during the world championships next, and Survivor SAKE was also granted permission to use a 20-person boat when through an unawarded All Cancer Survivor spot from nationals.

“We still feel like we’re able to be inclusive,” Marchand said.

Marchand and co-captain Nealy Evans rented out two houses to accommodate 24 team members during nationals in Colorado, using the larger home for team dinners.

“So we all just had time to really be with each other and support everybody,” Marchand said. “Everybody was working together, and it was just so lovely.”

Crew members had been concerned how they would handle the altitude — an elevation of 6,000 feet — and also the venue change to a smaller lake due to a closure of Prospect Lake over blue-green algae. Competing in Quail Lake meant the course was adjusted and included more turns, putting a lot of pressure on steerer Keiko Yanagihara.

“This was going to be her final race, and so she’s super experience and maybe 100 pounds, and it’s all going to be her,” Marchand said, “and the paddlers are just doing whatever she tells them, and it can change in the moment.”

The difference between bronze and silver was just one minute, and Marchand credits the training by the crew members and being able to get in sync for the positive showing at nationals.

While the temperature has dipped, Survivor SAKE will be training through the winter

“It’s really actually some of the finest paddling you’ll do because the water is much more calm,” Marchand said, adding the dragon boats are also not competing with motorized vessels and working through their wake. “Survivor SAKE has only paddled through the winter, I think, for two years now. Before, they thought people probably didn’t want to.”

Learn more about Team Survivor Northwest and Survivor SAKE at teamsurvivornw.org.