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Crew 309: Empowering breast cancer survivors one stroke at a time

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 10:27 PM CST
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EAST PEORIA (25 NEWS) - It’s more than just exercise.

“It allows us to have a little control because exercise is known to reduce breast cancer recurrence risk,” Caroline Seitz-Goddard, Crew 309 treasurer and breast cancer survivor, said.

Crew 309, a rowing team for breast cancer survivors started in 2017 with the help of Recovery on Water, a rowing team for breast cancer survivors in Chicago. In March 2020, Crew 309 was able to develop its own 501c3, becoming a registered non-profit organization.

Lindsay Vlaminck, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33, helped form the Peoria-area team in hopes of finding a new way to connect with other young survivors.

“There’s not a lot of in-person support for young survivors in Peoria and having a cancer diagnosis, particularly breast cancer, at this age, you kind of feel like the unicorn in the room,” said Vlaminck, Crew 309 outreach coordinator and breast cancer survivor.

Since the beginning, the group has grown to 50 active members of all ages, creating a space to exercise where cancer isn’t the focus.

“We don’t talk about cancer,” Seitz-Goddard said. “We don’t want to have to talk about cancer but we all understand one another’s backstories. It brings us together on a different level than maybe sitting in a circle and just talking. We really rally around one another if someone has a recurrence, we know how to pick each other.”

“They’re like our sisters,” Vlaminck said. “We have a very tight-knit group of women and so, it’s nice having that support system in place.”

Crew 309 gathers several days a week to exercise. In the summer, it’s rowing out on the Illinois River. In the winter, it’s exercising indoors.

“It’s really enjoyable. It’s very challenging,” Seitz-Goddard said. “A lot of us, this is something we never thought we would have done and we stepped out of our box and we did it and we learn together and every obstacle that we meet we just stare it down and we work through it together and the group really rallies around.”

But now the crew is facing a new challenge, fundraising to support additional members.

“Fundraisers are important to us because we don’t ask that any of our members pay a membership fee. We don’t want any barriers to someone being able to control their recurrence,” said Seitz-Goddard.

“We want to make sure that we can continue to provide in-person practices and on-water practices and eventually grow our fleet of boats so we’re able to bring more women out at a time,” said Vlaminck. “As it stands right now, we have an 8 woman boat, and a 4 woman boat so at max, we can take 12 members out on the water and we’d love to expand that and purchase more boats.”

Crew 309 is holding a Giving Tuesday fundraiser on its Facebook page. Last year, the group raised $6,376 during its Giving Tuesday fundraiser, which allowed them to add a second boat to its fleet.

The group’s long-term goal is to hire a coaching staff and buy more boats so they can bring more women into membership and take more women out on the water in the summer.

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