It was a week before her Survivors in Sync team's scheduled competition at the 2018 Dragon Boat Festival July 6-8 in Florence, Italy.
East County's Pat Van Stedum already was excited about the competition, so she went to her closet.
"I put on my shirt from 2014," she said. "Who would have thought we have come this far. It is amazing."
Van Stedum, who lives in the Inlets, was one of the first to join Survivors in Sync when Sarasota's Angela Long founded the breast-cancer survivors' program in 2013.
Survivors in Sync, which is based out of Nathan Benderson Park, went into the 2014 International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission (IBCPC) Dragon Boat Festival with no experience.
"We hadn't been practicing very long," Van Stedum said of the 2014 competition. "And we were in awe."
Although the competition is "participatory," the athletes want to put up solid times. In 2014, Survivors in Sync finished just inside the top 50 overall so it was a good starting point but not quite what they wanted.
Then over the past four years, the program continued to make tremendous gains in the Sarasota and Manatee counties area in terms of exposure and in terms of the kinds of support it offers to breast cancer survivors. Meanwhile, the times on the water were dropping.
When Van Stedum says the team has come so very far, her competitive side is showing. She feels her fellow paddlers will make their mark in Florence at the 127-team Dragon Boat Festival, which will feature representatives from 17 countries.
The team's recent performances have indicated she is right. On April 22, Survivors in Sync won the Sarasota International Dragon Boat Festival with a team-record time of 2:25 in the 500-meter race at Nathan Benderson Park.
Long, who is the team's coach and who also steers the boat, said that time matched the winning time of the 2014 Dragon Boat Festival, which also was held over the Nathan Benderson Park course.
She added she has no idea about the times being posted around the world, so she doesn't know where her teams stands going into the event.
She explained the Dragon Boat Festival, which is held every four years, is like the Olympics of breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing.
"This is the only event that is all breast cancer survivor participants," Long said. "Most events have a few heats of breast cancer survivors. These will be (breast cancer survivor) teams from around the world. We have been working extra hard for this. This is what we've built our season around. We have high hopes we will be competitive."
Each dragon boat team is made up of 22 competitors, including 20 paddlers, a drummer and a person to steer. Survivors in Sync will be bringing 30 competitors to the competition.
"We've been packed for two weeks," Long said of her excitement.
Bradenton's Linda Guilfoyle joined the team just over a year ago and she has seen her teammates build for the overseas event.
"We always are looking to beat our best time," she said. "Being on this team brought out a competitive side of me I didn't know was there. There are so many inspiring women on this team supporting each other.
"When I first went to paddle with this team, I was sold by how much they encourage each other, and by the camaraderie and the sense of belonging. I am 68 now, and I am in the best shape of my life."
The former executive director of curriculum and professional development for the School District of Manatee County said posting impressive times is just a way to inspire breast cancer survivors, and perhaps even future teammates.
"For anyone going through treatments, it is inspiring how much we can help each other," she said.
Most Survivors in Sync members who are making the trip have planned activities with family and friends either before after after the competition in Europe. Long was asked if it will be hard for the team to maintain its focus.
"That remains to be seen," Long said. "We need to keep that balance and remember why we are there. There always will be distractions, but our team is pretty competitive."
Van Stedum said she is looking forward to the vacation aspect of the trip, but she said her teammates take the competition very seriously.
"Most of all, I think we have been focused on showing people what cancer survivors can do," she said. "We want to show there is life after breast cancer. Those who find out they have it, they aren't sure what is ahead. I would say, 'give us a try.' We forget about breast cancer when we are on that boat.
"So we all know how important this is."
Benderson Development, Blalock Walters, Sunset Auto Group, Trapeze and Encore Sarasota have been main sponsors in helping to send Survivors in Sync to Florence.