Yukon River Quest

About this Item
SpeakersWestwood The Hon Helen
BusinessAdjournment, ADJ

Page: 21997

The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD [9.15 p.m.]: I inform the House about an amazing group of inspirational women. They are not famous or elite athletes, nor are they Olympians, but they are certainly superwomen. Not only are they the first Australian team to compete in Canada's gut-busting annual Yukon River Quest, which is the premier paddling event in Canada's north, but they are also a team of all women. They are ordinary Sydney women—or should I correct that and say extraordinary Sydney women—aged between 49 and 62 years. Each of them has survived breast cancer, or is a close supporter of someone who has.

Nine women—Wilma Kippers, Deb Hirst, Angela Aston, Tracey Bowne, Rosie O'Donnell, Vicki McLean, Sue McClelland, Liz Trenam and Ruth Turnell—have formed a team called the Yukon Buddies, and all of them are members of the Sydney Dragon Boat Club, Dragons Abreast. Most members of the House would not be aware of the Yukon River Quest. I will inform the House of just what a challenge these women have ahead of them. The annual Yukon River Quest is the world's longest annual canoe and kayak marathon, and it will be held from 30 June to 4 July 2010. The 740-kilometre, or 460-mile, wilderness adventure paddling race is held on the Yukon River starting from Whitehorse, which is approximately 2,000 kilometres north of Vancouver, and ending in Dawson City, which is in Canada's Yukon Territory just south of the Arctic Circle.

The Yukon River Quest is known as the Race to the Midnight Sun, as the sky never gets dark. Paddlers race around the clock. It is a true marathon with just two mandatory rest stops over the course of the entire event: one of three hours and one of seven hours. I am in awe of what these wonderful women are about to achieve. The swiftest voyageur canoes and their ultra-fit crews have completed the race in just over 40 hours. Voyageur canoes are large traditional Indian canoes, first used by the early fur traders, called the voyageurs, to haul their goods in the Canadian wilderness. The Yukon Buddies were inspired to enter the race after viewing the film River of Life, which tells the story of the Paddlers Abreast team, a group of breast cancer survivors from the Yukon. This year will be Paddlers Abreast tenth Yukon River Quest anniversary.

Australia's own Yukon Buddies, at the helm of their own voyageur canoe, are thrilled to be joining them for their maiden voyage. By race time at the end of June, 15 months of blood, sweat and tears will have gone into preparing for the 740-kilometre ordeal. Training takes up large chunks of the Yukon Buddies' lives as they prepare for the event. On top of normal dragon boat club training three times weekly, they also clock up many hours of extra paddling time in a seven-seat outrigger canoe, an OC7, because no voyageurs are available in Australia. They train also in kayaks. Rigorous cross-training sessions in the gym and pool help make up their fitness regime.

Every month or so, the Aussie girls get really serious. In order to simulate Yukon racing conditions, they have paddled continuously around Sydney's waterways in a dragon boat for 24 hours, spent an entire weekend white-water kayaking, and in December 2009, they completed the VicSuper Murray Marathon—a mere 404-kilometres of paddling over five days. As the call of the Yukon gets closer, the girls expect training will really be stepped up. They can be seen every Sunday morning in their outrigger on Middle Harbour. In a few weeks they will complete the same course that forms the Hawkesbury River Classic, a paddle of some 140 kilometres.

To round out their preparation, they have undergone sessions with a sports nutritionist and a sports psychologist, and all of them will complete a first aid course. The Yukon Buddies have self-funded all of their preparations for taking on this impressive challenge, including the purchase of the outrigger, paddles, equipment, special clothing, training, insurance, air fares and accommodation. They would welcome any generous sponsors who would be willing to support their endeavour. Clearly those women would be great promotional assets to any sponsor. These remarkable women want to use their spectacular endeavour to promote Dragons Abreast Australia. One of the Yukon Buddies, Wilma Kippers, said:
      It's thanks to Dragons Abreast that we all came to paddling in the first place, and it would be good to be able to give something back. Members of Dragons Abreast give a face to the breast cancer statistics and the organisation is dedicated to the goal of promoting fitness and fun after breast cancer.

      The beauty of Dragons Abreast is that breast cancer survivors of all ages and fitness levels can join in and feel included.

I congratulate the Yukon Buddies and all the Dragons Abreast team for their dedication and commitment to raising awareness of breast cancer. They are truly inspirational and provide positive role models for all women, particularly those living with cancer. Of course, they also have a great support team behind them in the Dragons Abreast Club and the land crew, which is made up of their husbands and partners, who have been very supportive. When the women were trying to get insurance to cover them for their Canadian endeavour, they were categorised as "extreme athletes". However, I think of them as absolutely inspirational women and I wish them all the best for their endeavours at the end of June.