Samford Grove resident and breast cancer survivor Wilhelmina (Willy) Kranenburg has paddled into the best years of her life, joining a senior squad of cancer survivors to form a dragon boat paddling team.   

After being inspired to take up the sport by a young mum and fellow breast cancer fighter in late 2007, Willy took to the water with a group of cancer survivors. The group train and participate in the community-based watersport all over Australia and the world.  

Initially shy about the physical requirements of the sport, which requires groups of 8 to 20 to manually paddle a watercraft between 200 and 2,000 metres, Willy, who had also undergone a hip replacement, instantly fell in love with the sport.  

Dragons Abreast Australia (DAA) Team Missabitattiti

“I didn’t think I would be able to try dragon boating, because of my age, but my friends and husband told me that I should try it, so I did,” Willy said. “I tried paddling for the first time when I was 68 and I got lost in it. I absolutely loved it.”  

With her new passion and like-minded community supporting her every step of the way, Willy went on to enjoy many dragon boating events including trips to Canada, Tin Can Bay and Italy.   

Although Willy no longer physically participates in paddling, she is still actively involved and regularly catches up with her fellow dragon boaters and plans to continue travelling with the resilient squad.  

“A group of us ladies made a pact that we would all continue paddling until we reached 80 years old, so that’s what we did,” Willy said. “There are still ladies paddling well into their 80’s but I stopped at that time after 12 years.  

“The last time I paddled was in Florence under the Ponte Vecchio while singing Waltzing Matilda. It was amazing. I’m still looking forward to joining the ladies on upcoming trips. We’re going to New Zealand next.”  

Willy and Team Missabitattiti practicing in Brisbane

Born in The Netherlands, Willy and her husband moved to Australia where she spent the majority of her working career as a teacher, before retiring in 2005 as a kindergarten teacher, one year after receiving her cancer diagnosis.   

Now living out her golden years at Reside Communities’ Samford Grove retirement village after the sudden loss of her husband in 2016, Willy enjoys an active and fulfilling retirement surrounded by supportive staff and friends.  

Samford Grove Village Manager Bronwyn O’Brien said Willy is an inspiration to the community’s other residents, as well as staff.  

“Willy’s story and determination is so inspiring to everyone at Samford Grove,” Bronwyn said. “Despite everything she has been through she continues to be a beacon of positivity and is always and is actively involved in our community. Willy loves living at Samford Grove and we are so grateful to have her here.”