Laura Schwanger



Just got the results from my 9-yr mammogram and ultrasound follow up — ALL CLEAR. As I think back over this journey, I am so thankful. I look back at that first year: doctor appointments, drugs, more doctor appointments, more procedures, more drugs… My life revolved around breast cancer, the Big C. I was weaker than I’d ever been. It was hard to imagine I’d ever regain the strength I’d once had. You see, I am a disabled veteran who had competed in 3 Paralympics with 11 medals to show. Now I could barely take the dog for a walk without collapsing when I returned home.

Lucky for me I lived near Philadelphia where rowing is HUGE!! A friend who ran the adaptive rowing program invited me to join them for their winter conditioning indoor rowing program. I had nothing to lose, so why not! It took me 4 months to be able to complete the workouts the group was doing. I was getting stronger & stronger, but cancer was still in the forefront.

By April, the coach invited me to go out in a boat on the water — it was cool. Next, I learned that rowing would be a new sport in 2008 Beijing Paralympics. To make a long story short, I had a crash course on learning to row and I made the National team in June to compete at the World Championships in Munich 2007, where I finished 6th. But more importantly, I secured a boat entry for Beijing. I spent the winter learning to row, traveling around the country in search of warm weather to row on the water, not on the erg. I worked hard and secured my spot, arms & shoulders single scull, U.S. Paralympic team.

In Beijing, I finished 3rd, Bronze medal, the brightest, shiniest medal I’ve ever won!!! I am most proud of this performance because of where I had come from. 2+ years earlier I had had that fateful mammogram that revealed Stage 2, invasive breast cancer.

I had come a LONG way, survived the storm and came out a WINNER! My oncology nurse practitioner noticed that I was changing my doctor appointments. I was NOT canceling them, but I was moving them around to fit in with my training and competition schedule. She knew then that I’d be okay, both physically and mentally. I was no longer obsessed with breast cancer. I was aware, but not consumed… Rowing helped me conquer breast cancer, both physically and psychologically!!!!!

I love talking to women, and men, about rowing and breast cancer. I’d like to continue being an ambassador for this great cause and attend more Row for the Cure events this year.