Michelle Steger’s life changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The mother of three fought the disease and in June 2017, she went into remission. After loathing the color pink when she was diagnosed, Steger was proud to wear the bright color as a survivor.
With being a survivor, Steger appreciates life in a different way now and wants to live her life to the fullest.
With the new outlook, Steger was introduced to dragon boating, a paddling sport that originated from China. She was living in Tampa, Florida, at the time and was invited to come on a boat with a local dragon boat team, Pink Dragon Ladies. She was hooked right away.
“They say that the dragon bites you and you just get addicted immediately,” Steger said.
The sport has grown popular in the breast cancer community after Don McKenzie published that dragon boating could benefit survivors as it would help build upper body strength in an environment that is aesthetically pleasing and supportive. This was against the grain at the time as survivors were discouraged from doing any vigorous activity. Soon the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission was formed to promote dragon boating for survivors and it led to IBCPC-sponsored competitions.
As 2017 was coming to a close, Steger started to become more involved with dragon boating. She found the sport just in time because July 2018 was the next IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival. This year’s festival was in Florence, Italy. The Tampa team was already full though, but Steger was able to get on another Florida team.
“I was kind of literally too late to get on the boat,” Steger said. “So they (Pink Dragon Ladies) hooked me up with the team in Orlando and I ended up racing with them.”
Seeger would train with the Warriors on Water team from November to June. In June, Steger and her family moved back to the Leavenworth area and she continued to stay in shape and train before leaving for Italy.
In Italy, Steger was one of nearly 3,000 breast cancer survivors at the event of nearly 5,000 people. There were 19 countries represented and 129 teams participated. Although it was technically not a competition, the competitive spirit was still there for Steger and her team. The team would finish around the top 40 percent.
Steger described the entire event as being amazing, but it being in a foreign land, especially Italy, made it more special.
“It was very special,” Steger said. “Especially the parade for the opening ceremonies the day before the races started. We paraded over the Ponte Vecchio bridge. It’s the only bridge that the Nazis didn’t destroy during World War II. All 3,000 of us paraded around and among the old buildings.”
With the current political climate that the United States citizens abroad have faced recently, Steger said that being able to show pride in her country was one of the coolest parts.
“The coolest part other than being in Florence and with the breast cancer survivors was politically,” Steger said. “My husband and I did a lot of traveling beforehand and we were a little nervous about claiming the United States. We were careful about what we wore and how we portrayed ourselves. Then in the parade, we were finally able to throw up the flag and claim the United States. And that was just amazing. All the U.S. tourists lined the sides and were cheering and yelling. It was like ‘we’re Americans’ and we were representing our country. It was just beautiful aboard in Italy.”
Now that Steger is back in the Kansas City area, she is hoping to start a dragon boat team of her own in the area. As the sport has grown, it has started to expand into other parts of the country including Minnesota and Fort Dodge, Iowa. The planning is still in the infant stages, but Steger wants to give other survivors like her the opportunity to learn and grow from this sport in her new changed life. Although it was a horrible disease, breast cancer changed Steger’s life for the better and the woman who was not excited about all the pink embraces the pink lifestyle and new outlook on life.