Sylvia Flaxman, Canberra, 2006

Sylvia was a Dragons Abreast ‘Original’, one of the amazing women who first took up a paddle as part of the very first Dragons Abreast team to attend the National Titles held in 2000 in Penrith, NSW. That was at a time when the dragon boat world had never seen a team of Pink Ladies on the water and at a time when the majority of people in Australia, and especially the medical professionals, were extremely sceptical about the wisdom of dragon boat racing for survivors.

Sylvia was not just a paddler; she went on to be a fully accredited and highly skilled sweep. Sylvia swept for many teams and despite having advanced cancer and no voice due to aggressive radiotherapy treatment, Sylvia swept at the 2005 Australia National Titles in Canberra and at the Australian Masters Games in Adelaide in November 2005. Her instructions were relayed via a buddy on the back seat and Sylvia controlled the boat—a symbol of what Dragons Abreast is about: when someone is not well, her friends are there to help in whatever way they are needed.

Sylvia led a full life, worked hard in her career and her private life, raised two beautiful daughters and has a wonderful husband John, her life partner, who has been with her every step of her cancer journey. Sylvia was athletic and passionate. She paddled rivers and lakes, the sea in Auckland Harbour, climbed mountains and participated in fun runs and many other sports events, but most of all she was a friend to many and loved by all who knew her. Despite her own illness, Sylvia always thought of others before herself. She was an amazingly passionate and caring woman, an inspiration to us all—and we will dearly miss her…

FLOWERS ON THE WATER – NATIONALS 2006 – TRIBUTE TO SYLVIA FLAXMAN

Easter Sunday – 16th April, Nagambie, Victoria 
Compiled from my words and Jan’s. Both of us had, unknown to each other, got up to write a tribute to Sylvia. Jan and I then swapped what we wrote and read each others – amazingly we had both, more or less, said the same thing, except Jan’s contained more personal details re Sylvia’s family etc.

I was unsure whether I could carry it off without breaking down so I asked Norbert Goulton who is from the Qld team and very supportive of DAA (he did the Flowers on Water for us on Sunshine Coast as we were all in the boats) to join me in the commentary box and take over if I could not pull it off.

THE WORDS

At every National Titles since 2001 we have held a Flowers on the Water Ceremony. This ceremony is one of commemoration, of celebration and of remembrance.

Dragons Abreast demonstrates that there is quality of life despite breast cancer and that with early detection and appropriate treatment one can lead a full and active life.

We have 7 Dragons Abreast boats on the water. Hope – a composite boat from across the country, Boobialla from Tasmania, Bendigo, Geelong, Amazons from WA, Dragons Abreast ACT and our wonderful Dragons Abreast Sydney.
Today’s Flowers on the Water Ceremony is dedicated to a very special and inspirational woman – our very dear friend – Sylvia Flaxman from Dragons Abreast ACT. Whilst we were gathered together here at Nagambie on Good Friday evening we received the news that Sylvia had passed away.

Sylvia was a Dragons Abreast ORIGINAL, one of the amazing women who first took up a paddle as part of the very first Dragons Abreast team to attend the National Titles held in 2000 in Penrith, NSW. That was at a time when the dragon boat world had never seen a team of pink ladies on the water, at a time when the majority of people in Australia and especially the medical professionals were extremely skeptical about the wisdom of dragon boat racing for survivors. We have grown from those small beginnings of just 20 women from across Australia into a national organisation with 31 member groups, located in every State and Territory of Australia.

Sylvia was not just a paddler, she went on to be a fully accredited and highly skilled sweep. Sylvia swept for many teams and despite having advanced cancer and no voice due to aggressive radiotherapy treatment Sylvia swept at the 2005 Nationals in Canberra and at the Australian Masters Games in Adelaide in Nov 2005. Her instructions were relayed via a buddy on the back seat and Sylvia controlled the boat.

This is a symbol of what Dragons Abreast is about, when someone is not well, her friends are there to help in whatever way they are needed.

Sylvia led a full life, worked hard in her career and her private life, raised two beautiful daughters and has a wonderful husband John, her life partner who has been with her every step of her cancer journey.

Sylvia was athletic and passionate. She paddled rivers and lakes, the sea in Auckland Harbour, climbed mountains and participated in fun runs and many other sports events, but most of all she was a friend to many and loved by all who knew her.

Despite her own illness Sylvia always thought of others before herself, she was an amazingly passionate and caring woman, an inspiration to us all – and we will dearly miss her.

Sylvia left us at 7.30 pm on Good Friday to join our Angels Abreast team in the heavens.

I ask you now to observe one minutes silence in honour of Sylvia.

AFTER THE ONE MINUTE’S SILENCE

(read by Norbert)

It was Sylvia’s wish to have a paddle guard of honour at her funeral – if you would like to form a paddle guard of honour in memory of Sylvia and support of Dragons Abreast we welcome your participation as the crews return to shore.

After I had done my bit I bawled like a baby. I had to leave the commentary box or the whole site would have heard me! Kylie Bade came up and gave me the biggest hug, saying it was the best tribute anyone could wish for and that she had started bawling by the time I was at the second sentence!

After I recovered a little I went out onto the verandah which was high above the course, as I did not feel like joining everyone downstairs as they came off the boats. 
This Chinese lady, who apparently is the wife of one of the Chinese officials, was in tears beside me and said she had never realized before exactly what Flowers on the Water was!

I think this Flowers on Water has taken DA to a new level in the eyes of everyone, especially sports paddlers. What that level is I am not sure!!! I think, what it actually did is reinforce the message that we really are just about inclusiveness and spreading the message of awareness –not about winning races or medals!

It was wonderful looking down from the tower as the sun was shining on the boats, they had not managed to raft but were in little clumps – two lots of boats and then one all on its own which I think was ACT, and that was really appropriate. ACT had pink roses that floated on the water – there were not so many flowers this year, but that was so much more effective. It was special.

After the boats broke away from each other they did a paddle tap circle before the two DAS boats formed up together and paddled in. The guard of honour commenced and it just grew and grew! It was 250 metres long in the end and I know that because the 200 m was marked out on the course.

I was told afterwards by many that there were lumps in all the men’s throats. It was fantastic and I don’t think we have had such a ‘special’ Flowers on Water since the first one in Darwin. We certainly have not had a guard of honour so long since 2002 on the Gold Coast.

I now know that it was meant to be that Sylvia passed away when we were all together – she was so special and it was wonderful that the majority of those DA paddlers who knew and loved her had this opportunity to publicly and jointly say goodbye to her – even if I was hiding on the verandah!

Sylvia is the second of our originals to graduate to “Angels Abreast”. The first was our drummer Joyce Castles. I feel their loss more keenly as they are ‘extra special’ – after all they were the game ones who first jumped on board and although I am much younger than them I do feel a little like a mother hen (or should that be dragon?)

Michelle

messages:

"Dear Dragons Abreast,

The Ice Dragons were very saddened to hear of the passing of Sylvia on Good Friday. On behalf of the Ice Dragons may I pass on our sincere condolences to the Dragons Abreast Club. On the same token, we were congratulate you for your club’s strength to continue competing in the regatta despite the great loss. Well done.

We all found the Flowers on the Water ceremony moving and were glad to be part of the guard of honour. We are interested in details of funeral arrangements when they come to hand.

Also on behalf of the club I’d like to thank you for your support, well wishes and cheers during our races over the nationals weekend. It means a great deal to us to share in the support of all clubs from the ACT.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Dalbroi
Ice Dragons"

From Anna:
John asked me to forward this to you all with apologies that he didn’t know names to do an individual thanks.

"Dear Wonderful Ladies,

We (Mandy, Heidi and I) would like to completely endorse Anna’s sentiments – your support and fellowship for Sylvia has been overwhelming for so long, right to the end. We shall never forget the sight of all those raised paddles as we left the church – words cannot express how we felt. We were so proud that so many of her friends were prepared to show their feelings in that way.

Anna must take full credit (with a little help from Mandy) for the oh so perfect Order of Service and for the heartfelt eulogy (with a little help from Sylvia) – thanks so much Anna, you have been a tower of strength for us all.

Thanks again for being such an important part of Sylvia’s life.

With love from John, Mandy and Heidi"

In honour of Sylvia, Dragons Abreast ACT’s annual corporate regatta presents a perpetual shield for the team most in keeping with the ethos of Dragons Abreast.

 

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