Paddle for the Cure founder tries to inspire and help heal breast cancer survivors


There are not enough hours in Leah V. Salmorin’s day. The Flushing breast cancer survivor works her freelance job as a patient navigator and attends night school, all while keeping her charitable organization afloat.

“I need to manage my time properly; if not, the charity will be a mess,” she said.

Salmorin is the president and founder of Paddle for the Cure, a survivorship program that uses recreational and competitive dragon boat racing to manage side effects of treatment for breast cancer survivors and promotes a positive and healthy lifestyle.

“Our priority is to build a special sisterhood of breast cancer survivors, but everyone is welcome to join us including kids 15 years or older,” Salmorin said. “We are always trying to recruit more members. We need at least 20 paddlers for competition. We hope one day to race out of town and even internationally.”

Salmorin dedicates much of her time fundraising toward that goal as dragon boat racing can be expensive. Paddle for the Cure depends on the New York Wall Street Dragons for training and support as well as use of their dragon boat, coach and steerer.

A portion of the donations during the group’s fundraising events helps the underserved patients of the Hope Pavilion Cancer Clinic of Elmhurst Hospital Center, which Salmorin credits for saving her life. Salmorin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004.

“My whole life changed,” she said. “I felt I was drowning in a deep ocean and felt so alone struggling and in desperate need of help.”

Salmorin endured four cycles of chemotherapy, 38 days of radiation and further treatment until 2009.

During this journey, 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.”

She found support among the dragon boat community and found direct benefits from the sport.

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

Salmorin points to research by Dr. Don C. McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia who “dispelled the myth that women with breast cancer treatment refrain from upper body exercise for fear of developing chronic lymphedema,” a permanent and sometimes incapacitating swelling of the arms and chest. McKenzie’s study concluded that women who paddle showed marked improvement in both their physical and mental health and that paddling increases flexibility, aerobic capacity and strength.

“Our team events are open to all and promote a healthy lifestyle, a way of getting life and movement back through exercise, as well as emotional support and team spirit,” she said.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Salmorin came from a medical family.

“Being raised in a medical family and my passion in the water is a great combination to form this charity and water is our way of raising awareness for breast cancer as water is the key to healing and water is life,” she said. “As a breast cancer survivor I hope to inspire others and bring an impact as my way of giving back.”

Paddle for the Cure has created and introduced programs that engage not just breast cancer survivors but their support groups and other cause-oriented organizations with sports activities in partnership with government agencies. The group practices every Saturday at the World’s Fair Marina on Flushing Bay.

“It’s not just dragon boat racing; we also kayak and we do kite surfing with Kostal Paddle, a group of water people based in Long Island and Florida who supports us all the way,” she said. “We also have a bowling team because not all people are water people.”