Sports

Breast Cancer Survivor from Queens Paddles for a Cure

Leah Salmorin founded a dragonboat team for survivors of breast cancer. (Photos: courtesy of Leah Salmorin)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the U.S., one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

One of those eight is Leah Salmorin, a native of the Philippines and a lector at St. Joan of Arc Church, Jackson Heights.

Salmorin is full of energy and a lover of sports, especially swimming. But in 2004, after discovering a painful lump on her breast during a self-examination, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told she had six months to live.

“I felt I was drowning in a deep ocean and felt so alone — struggling and in desperate need of help,” said Salmorin, who was shocked with the diagnosis given her active lifestyle.

At first, she thought about consulting a priest to receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Instead, she visited a cemetery to reflect upon her life. In that moment, she decided to face the diagnosis head-on.

“I told myself I will not allow cancer to ruin or mess up my life,” she said. “I will not allow cancer to knock me down completely. I will beat cancer because I am a winner. I will get my life back and enjoy it to the fullest.”

Her treatment included a lumpectomy, four cycles of chemotherapy, 38 days of radiation and doses of tamoxifen until 2009. Now in remission, Salmorin founded the nonprofit organization Paddle for the Cure, which offers a unique survivorship program that uses recreational dragonboat paddling to manage the side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Dragonboating is a paddling sport that originated more than 2,000 years ago in southern China. As part of ancient religious ceremonies and folk ritual customs, contending villagers raced their boats in a show of strength and power.

According to research by Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia, women who paddle have improved physical and mental health as paddling increases flexibility, aerobic capacity and strength — dispelling the myth that women with breast cancer should refrain from upper-body exercises.

“After my surgery, I was bandaged for a very long time,” Salmorin said. “But after training in dragon boats, I found I didn’t need them anymore.”

Founded in 2013, Paddle for the Cure promotes a positive and healthy lifestyle among breast cancer survivors. The goal is for the team to eventually compete on the national and international stage.

“I believe at the end of the dark tunnel, there is always light, and I can get through anything,” Salmorin said. “I am thankful for being transformed into a better, stronger person.”

The team practices every Saturday from May through October at the World’s Fair Marina on Flushing Bay, with offseason indoor practices taking place from November through April. This special sisterhood of breast cancer survivors is made up of paddlers of different skill levels who are all united by a common bond.

The charitable work continues to drive Salmorin as a breast cancer survivor. She’s even spoken to former NFL quarterback, New York Mets minor-leaguer and fellow Philippines native Tim Tebow about ways she can improve her organization.

“My passion for the water and the gift of life I have been given are the main reasons I was motivated to form the Paddle for the Cure dragon boat team,” Salmorin said. “In this way, I can inspire other survivors to be active and join the race.”

Interested in joining Paddle for the Cure? Visit pfcnyc.org for more information.

Through exercise, emotional support and team spirit, Salmorin has given hope to local breast cancer survivors. That’s quite the accomplishment for someone who was given six months to live…now 15 years later.


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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