From surviving cancer to paddling for gold: The Cebu Pink Paddlers

Clyde Jayvy Villanueva
From surviving cancer to paddling for gold: The Cebu Pink Paddlers
They conquer the world stage once again as they prevail in DBS Marina Regatta in Singapore

MANILA, Philippines – It’s barely a year old, but the Cebu Pink Paddlers has already won in multiple dragon boat competitions – 5 championships and one runner-up title. What makes this feat more exceptional is its members are not your typical athletes; they’re all cancer survivors.

Composed of 15 members, the Cebu Pink Paddlers is the first all-women dragon boat team in Cebu and the first all-female breast cancer survivors dragon boat team in the Philippines.

The team, established in July 2017, has humble beginnings.

Mostly housewives and not initially into sports, the members discovered paddling when a fellow breast cancer survivor, Grace Diomare, introduced dragon boating to them.

Diomare, who has been paddling for 6 months at the time, encouraged the women to try it because of its health benefits. Dragon boating proved to be beneficial to them as a therapy and recovery program, especially to ease some of the side effects of cancer treatment.

Through ICanServe Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the early detection of breast cancer, the women decided to take paddling more seriously, eventually forming the ICanServe Dragonboat Team.

From a group of 5, the team transitioned to what it is known today, the Cebu Pink Paddlers, as it recruited more members.

“They are not just Breast Cancer Survivors; they are now athletes who are inspiring the world, teaching us that despite the scenarios that may happen in someone’s life, one should keep moving forward as life must go on,” Christian Sy, Cebu Pink Paddlers’ head coach said.

Championship titles from the Keelung Taiwan International Dragon Boat Festival (Breast Cancer Survivors Category) and the 12th Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival (Women’s Regular Category) are just some of their hard-earned medals.

Sy, who has been training the team since the beginning, has nothing but praises and awe for his paddlers. After all, he knows how hard it is to have a family member with this kind of disease.

“I didn’t choose to be the coach of Pink Paddlers but maybe it was destined to happen as my auntie was also diagnosed with breast cancer, but she didn’t survive. I offer every training and race to her, to everyone in the team, and to the community, that life must continue and it is worthy to be lived to the fullest,” he said.

Sy is also the head coach of much-admired PADS Adaptive Dragonboat Racing Team. (READ: Filipino PWD paddlers win gold in HK paradragon boat race)

3 training programs

The paddlers undergo a strict training consisting of 3 programs, running its full course all throughout the year and takes its peak 3 months before the team competes in any dragon boating bout.

UNITY. The women paddlers treat their team as their second family. Photo from the Cebu Pink Paddlers Dragonboat Team Facebook page.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the team undergoes land training. The lady paddlers do running routines, weight lifting, and special body workouts.

Every Wednesday, they do pool paddling to enhance their power and load in every stroke of rowing.

On Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays, they train at sea, perfecting their synchronization with the same power, load, and strength in paddling.

As the rigorous training takes up their whole week, the paddlers have less time to spend with their own families.

“I have a 6-year-old child that at this stage really needs my ample attention but I am also occupied with dragon boat trainings. There are times that I ask myself if I am going in the right path; times that I have a guilt feeling that I am neglecting my family. I am just blessed and thankful that I have an understanding husband who sees what’s in me,” Eden Paluca, one of the paddlers, said.

With support system from their families and communities, and time management on the part of the paddlers, they are able to balance their responsibilities.

But money has also proved to be a challenge.

They spend on uniforms, hotel accommodations, flight tickets, and the training itself.

As sponsorships and solicitations from private institutions are not usually sufficient, they sometimes find themselves spending their own money. But the team remains hopeful that more people will notice and help them in their advocacy.

SECOND CHANCE. The Cebu Pink Paddlers members find new hope in dragon boating. Photo from the Cebu Pink Paddlers Dragonboat Team Facebook page.

The Cebu Pink Paddlers’ team captain, Ma Liberty Rañoa, said she is confident that the team will continue to get better. 

It’s the best way to show the world that cancer can’t stop anyone from living a fulfilled life, she said.

The team is set to compete and defend one of their titles in Taiwan in October. –

For donations, you may contact them at and at (+63) 917 630 7164.


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