After Beating Cancer, Glen Dale Native Looks To Defeat Dragon Boaters

Photo by Brian Koch The Dragon Dream Team works in July to place third among 147 teams in the world in Florence, Italy. The team, led by Glen Dale native and breast cancer survivor Amy Ealy Synk, will participate Saturday in the Wheeling Dragon Boat Festival at Heritage Port.

Glen Dale native Amy Ealy Synk drew from her experience as a breast cancer survivor to band with other survivors in dragon boat racing, a journey that recently led to her placing third worldwide at the International Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy.

This weekend, Synk, daughter of Dr. David Ealy, will return to the Ohio Valley to participate in the Wheeling Dragon Boat Festival. The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Wheeling’s Heritage Port.

The Dragon Dream Team finished in July its final 500-meter race in 2 minutes, 21.69 seconds. That was less than a second behind the New Zealand team and just a second behind the Ontario team that took first at the international festival in Florence, Italy.

However, Synk, who now lives in Akron, Ohio, and is the team’s president, said the point of the dragon boat races is to show unity. At the time of the international race, the announcers didn’t immediately give the final race times.

“It’s considered participatory — in the final race, they don’t even announce who wins,” she said. “Everyone changes into the same pink shirt and goes to the closing ceremonies. It’s not what I realized — you’re competing against everyone, and then all of a sudden, everyone’s the same. It’s not about your race time, but it’s about what you do with your time after a breast cancer diagnosis.”

Because dragon boat racing is a sanctioned sport for breast cancer survivors, Synk — who has been a survivor for seven years — said she learned how to row from her father. The dragon boat races, Synk said, put her in touch with a number of other breast cancer survivors from whom they can draw inspiration.

“When you’re diagnosed, you’re so scared and need hope, and that’s what you find in these teams,” said Synk. “When you see the other women who’ve gone through what you have, and they made it and keep showing up, it gives you strength to keep going too. … That’s how you feel this instant connection with someone who’s gone through what you’ve gone through.”

Synk said Dragon Dream Team had finished 39th at its last international competition in Sarasota, Florida. In the meantime, it had worked to improve by practicing several times a week. The team had placed No. 1 in the United States before going on to Italy.

“We’ve had the good fortune in the past four years to go to Florida, to a camp which had some of the top dragon boat coaches in the world, so we’ve gone there for a full week for the past three years,” she said.

Synk said the races serve not only as an athletic outlet, but as a support group for one another.

“People who haven’t had cancer think, once your treatment’s over, they think, ‘What are you worried about?’ she said. “But these women understand that it’s always kind of sitting there, at the back of your mind.

“We’ve had someone pass away on our team every year I’ve been a member,” said Synk. “We collect around these women to support them. … It’s a bond you can’t explain, it’s just an automatic one. There are no words that need to be said.”