Sport and Support



The LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program brings cancer survivors together from all walks of life and stages of survivorship. “It definitely made me stronger,” shares two-time breast cancer survivor Helen Kovach. “When you are part of a group, you work harder. I would not have done this on my own. I am a retired physical education teacher but still the motivation wasn’t there.”


“Helen originally did LIVESTRONG years after her initial battle with breast cancer,” recalls Tampa Y Healthy Living Director Dawn Kita. “Two years after completing the program, and while in a special alumni group, she was diagnosed for a second time. She’s stayed connected to the Y and LIVESTRONG ever since.”


When Helen meets with other LIVESTRONG members at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA, she receives and provides support during the long recovery process. “We all became friends and we do other things socially together,” shares Helen. “We don’t dwell on the things that aren’t going well but we support each other. When I was going through my second round of reconstruction, I got cards, gifts, visits and texts.”


Such strong bonds even carried over to an unexpected passion for Helen and dozens of others Y members: dragon boat racing. Helen and her friends are part of the Pink Dragon Ladies®. Donned in all pink, these cancer survivors grab their paddles, jump in a pink 42-foot canoe and compete as a team all across the country. They enjoy the support provided by working out with other women who share similar experiences and goals as they regain control of their bodies and lives.


As Helen and her canoe comrades compete in up to a dozen boat festivals a year, she cannot help but remember how it all started with her Y family. “I very rarely miss my Thursday morning LIVESTRONG class just because it’s part of who I am now – getting back into physical condition to stay strong and stay alive.”


LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is a free 12-week program proven to help survivors meet or exceed the recommended amount of physical activity, boost their endurance, decrease cancer-related fatigue and improve overall quality of life. The program is available at all Tampa YMCA family centers. For more information, contact

Pictured above: L to R: Northwest Y member Helen Kovach, South Tampa Y Wellness Coordinator Deirdre Semeyn, Jenny Clark and Campo Y member Marie Algarin during LIVESTRONG celebration week.


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