CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Lowcountry women who have already won a fight against cancer are now heading to Australia looking to win even more.
The team Paddles and Pearls is made up of breast cancer survivors from the Lowcountry. The team is heading to Australia to compete in the Dragon Boat World Championships. Their past experience binds them together and now a common goal drives them forward. Each of the women on the team have survived cancer and are now thriving with Dragon Boat Charleston.
To even get on the team, each woman had to face the biggest challenge of her life. When Alice Turner was diagnosed in 2001, she said the surgeon gave her two options: a double mastectomy or a lumpectomy.
"It was the scariest thing that I've ever experienced because I literally was by myself," Turner said.
But she wouldn't have to face her recovery alone. On a friend's suggestion, Turner decided to give Dragon Boat paddling a try. Her first time on the water, she got more than she bargained for in a couple of different ways.
"I couldn't paddle longer than 20 strokes and I pulled my paddle out and I just felt defeated," Turner said. "The team of women came up and basically surrounded me and said 'We've all been there.' I found a whole new group of friends that lifted me up and got me through a lot of other trials and tribulations."
Cynthia Smalls, another member of the Paddles and Pearls team, first learned of Dragon Boat Charleston through people she met in the gym. She joined shortly after her first cancer treatment in 2009. Like Turner, Smalls was surprised by the physical challenge.
"At first I was like, 'What in the world am I doing out here?'" Smalls said. "But after you get in the boat you just fall in love with it."
Smalls truly learned the power of a team when she was diagnosed a second time in 2013. When she learned she had triple negative breast cancer, her Dragon Boat sisters were there to get her through.
"It not only inspires you and let's you know that you're strong enough to do anything, but you also have such a support system on the water as well as off the water."
Turner and Smalls will join the rest of the team in Australian for the World Championships beginning April 1. Find out more about Dragon Boat Charleston's journey here.