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Rowing team of cancer survivors launches at record-breaking Prouty fundraiser

  • Carin Reynolds, of Lebanon, N.H., left, helps prepare the oars with rowers Kristyn Wallace, of Walpole, N.H., back right, and Amy Visser-Lynch, front right, as coxswain Ellie Stannard, 16, of Lebanon, holds their shell at the Kendal Riverfront Park boat launch during the Prouty cancer research fundraising event in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, July 13, 2019. Reynolds coached the team that included three breast cancer survivors with only three weeks of learning to row before the event. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alicia Groft, of Norwich, Vt., checks the pinning on her number tag for the Prouty before joining her team of rowers at Kendal Riverfront Park in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, July 13, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kristyn Wallace, of Walpole, N.H., grimaces while waiting for the command to lower the boat from the team’s coxswain at the Kendal Riverfront Park boat launch in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, July 13, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Catie Steidl, of Hanover; Alicia Groft, of Norwich, Vt.; Amy Visser-Lynch, of Townshend, Vt.; and Kristyn Wallace, of Walpole, N.H., were among 216 who participated in the rowing portion of the Prouty on the Connecticut River on Saturday, July 13, 2019. Steidl was the only experienced rower in the boat, helping to set the rhythm for her teammates. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, July 13, 2019

HANOVER — Watching the little team she’d assembled push off the dock and join the other rowers on the Connecticut River for the first time on Saturday morning, Maureen Stannard marveled at the simple beauty of the scene.

“You ladies rock!” she whooped as the small boat slipped out into the water and the women in their matching green T-shirts and “survivor” bibs began rowing in sync. A second later, she was fanning the air as though to shoo away the emotions that suddenly swarmed her.

“These women have all been through so much,” said Stannard, an oncology research nurse and organizer of the first breast cancer survivor rowing team to participate in the annual Prouty fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “They get so beaten down and everything is so heavy, then to see them today laughing on such a stunningly gorgeous morning, doing something new and so physical, all banded together in that boat — taking back their power and life ... is truly what cancer care is all about.”

The survivors’ team rowed about six miles of the 15-mile course, and the team’s inaugural row was a small but poignant part of the event, which brought more than 200 rowers to Kendal Riverfront Park. In total, more than 4,400 people came out for the rowing, walking, biking and golf at the 38th annual Prouty fundraiser, which was created in honor of Audrey Prouty by four nurses who treated her during her nine-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Stannard, who has studied the connection between physical activity levels and cancer and surveyed dozens of patients about their own habits, got the idea for a rowing team through her own three children, who all row at Hanover High School. Working with Carin Reynolds, co-founder and director of the rowing portion of the Prouty, she reached out to women she’d befriended while helping with their treatment at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

For Amy Visser-Lynch, the decision to participate was easy.

“I’m not going to say no to new adventures anymore in my lifetime,” said Visser-Lynch, 48, one of three cancer survivors who rowed on the inaugural cancer survivor rowing team, with assistance from experienced rower Katie Steidl and 16-year-old coxswain Ellie Stannard, Maureen Stannard’s daughter.

Visser-Lynch, who lives in Townshend, Vt., was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, just a week after burying her father. The team who treated her through two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation gave her strength and inspiration, she said.

“All the support kept me positive, kept me going,” said Visser-Lynch, wearing a pink feather boa atop her race T-shirt.

Kristyn Wallace, 48, of Walpole, N.H., was excited to join the team, too. After undergoing treatment in 2016 and 2017, she heard about rowing as a promising new post-operative treatment for breast cancer.

Using a boat on loan from the Upper Valley Rowing Foundation, the team had just a few weeks to learn the sport.

“Learning to row is a challenge. There’s a lot of nuances,” Wallace said. “It was a good experience, though.”

This was a banner year for the Prouty, as organizers said the event raised more than $3.3 million for patient support services and cancer research at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. That’s the most money ever raised by event day and just a few thousand dollars shy of the Prouty’s previous record, said Jean Brown, executive director of the Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Because more money always trickles in after the race, she’s certain this year will break past records.

“This has been a really exciting year,” Brown said. “There’s a really good feeling in the community about the cancer center.”

Appreciation for the cancer center was a key motivation for Donna Palatucci, Sue Goulet and Hatsy McGraw as they walked the 7K at the Prouty on Saturday. The three friends have been walking together every year since 2005, the same year that Palatucci was diagnosed with cancer.

Palatucci, who lives in Windsor, recalled the massages she received at the cancer center, and the musicians who came in and played the harp while she was waiting for treatment. She knows how much those little things can mean.

“We also have a good friend who is in treatment right now,” said McGraw, who met Palatucci and Goulet while she was living in Windsor and now lives in Hartland.

All three of the women, who joke that they are the “Prouty cover girls” because their photo was once on the front of a Prouty publication, have lost friends and family members to cancer. They have walked through drenching rains and heat waves alike, and they even recalled having to wait out a thunderstorm in the Frances Richmond Middle School gym. They’ve also witnessed the growth of the event, which was started in 1982 after Audrey Prouty’s death and is now the biggest charity challenge north of Boston.

“This is really important to us every year. We really try not to miss,” McGraw said.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

 Correction

A team that included cancer survivors rowed six miles of the 15-mile Prouty course, and Kristyn Wallace is from Walpole, N.H.  An earlier version of this story understated how many miles the women rowed and a photo caption misidentified what state the town is in.