Cancer, Chronic Pain Survivors to Hit the Water in Dragon Boats

By Beacon Staff

When Chany Ockert hits the water in a dragon boat this September, it will conclude two years of hard and tireless work. Work that at times she thought was impossible.

Diagnosed with cancer in 2011, Ockert thought she would no longer be able to do the things she loved, such as hiking and enjoying the outdoors, especially the Bob Marshall Wilderness where she worked as a station guard. Chemotherapy was wearing her down.

“I didn’t know if I would get better, if I could get my fitness back,” she said. “I mean even walking around the block was a challenge.”

But thanks to the Journey to Wellness program at The Summit in Kalispell, Ockert is, once again, active. In April 2012, she was surfing in the Pacific Ocean and in July she was part of a team that competed in the Glacier Challenge. This September, she hopes to join a group of Journey to Wellness graduates participating in the 2013 Montana Dragon Boat Festival on Flathead Lake. The first festival was held in September 2012 and featured dozens of teams racing wooden dragon boats at the Flathead Lake Lodge near Bigfork.

Recently, the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation paid $1,000 to reserve two dragon boats for the Sept. 7 and 8 races. Having a boat for graduates of The Summit’s wellness program was the brainchild of Dr. Pam Roberts after she competed on a team last fall.

“For me personally, what came out of the dragon boats experience was the need to help one another and to work as a team,” she said. “It’s more than just being on the boat, it’s about being on the team.”

Journey to Wellness was formed more than three years ago and is a three-month program at The Summit for people diagnosed with chronic conditions, orthopedic or other medical problems, including cancer. Participants meet with personal coaches to come up with a fitness and nutrition plan and take various classes at the gym. Roberts said each client sets individual goals and the coaches help them meet those targets.

For Ockert, her primary goal was to gain more energy. She said after the chemotherapy, she would sleep 14 to 16 hours a day.

“I remember crying a lot those months,” she said. “I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I loved … (But) Journey to Wellness is why I got my energy back as fast as I did and it gave me hope.”

Tagen Vine, president of the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation, said donating the money to reserve the two dragon boats was an obvious choice. He said it was a great way to help people, especially those who have had health struggles in the past, find a new activity.

Dragon boat racers paddle in unison to the rhythm of a drum while competing in the first ever Montana Dragon Boat Festival on Flathead Lake. – File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Roberts said she would be putting together a team of cancer and chronic pain survivors in the coming months.

“We have a lot of people who have overcome cancer and want to challenge themselves,” she said.

Ockert is already looking forward to hitting the water with survivors like her eight months from now.

“By coming together with The Summit team, we can be together and share that camaraderie,” she said.

For more information about The Summit and the programs it offers, visit www.nwhc.org/summit.