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Abreast from West heads east

The team will sail in Queen's pageant, as only Canadians

On June 3, more than 1,000 vessels will float down the Thames River for the Queen's Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

Dressed in red and white shirts adorned with maple leaves will be four Richmond breast cancer survivors - Georgina Patko, Heather Trenholm (the captain of the dragon boat team), Yvonne Stitch and Margaret Hobson. The quartet is part of the only Canadian team, dubbed Abreast from the West, taking part in the massive procession.

"I was told it is the biggest flotilla on the Thames in over 350 years," said Patko, who has been a cancer survivor since 1999. "It's unbelievable and it's really exciting."

The squad of 16 breast cancer survivors, from all across the Lower Mainland, have been training every Sunday for two hours at the UBC Boathouse, as well as with their respective local dragon boat teams.

"We have to learn the Royal salute as well as a host of rules," Patko quipped. "We received 200 pages filled with protocol we have to follow. All together we will paddle 22 kilometres."

Hobson, who has been paddling since 1999, is also very excited. "There are six of us in the crew who were born in England, so it's really exciting. I've never paddled in England so this is a really special thing to happen to us.

"When Heather (Trenholm) put in the application and told us, I guess we all kind of thought we'd never get accepted as it was based on a lottery system, so we were completely surprised and thrilled."

However, Hobson does admit it's a little daunting.

"Our races are 500 metres and in London it's a 22 kilometre route - that's a long way. So far, we have mastered 11 kilometres.

"Hopefully, with all of the excitement and the crowd cheering will give us the energy to make it."

The ladies are already celebrities of sorts. Both CBC and CTV have interviewed some of the members of the team. as well as Vancouver Sun columnist Peter McMartin and MacLean's magazine have both printed articles.

"We've been told that both CBC and CTV will be there filming us," added Hobson. "The excitement is mounting."

All the paddlers are paying their own way to England although they have received some sponsorship.

"Mustang Survival have generously loaned every crew member a deluxe, red, flotation device to help us represent Canada safely," said Patko, adding a British team has loaned them a dragon boat for the event.

"We have also received individual donations as well as one from MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates."

According to the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant website, this will be one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the river.

Rowed boats, working boats and pleasure vessels of all shapes and sizes will don streamers and Union Flags, their crews and passengers turned out in their finest rigs.

For more information about the flotilla, visit

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