Mary Kay couldn't put her emotions into words Saturday after helping paddle DragonBoat Beaufort's first vessel across the Beaufort River.
A two-time breast cancer survivor who lost a sister to the disease, Kay is part of a team of survivors, patients and supporters who have been practicing on land and, occasionally, on water, in borrowed boats.
"When you're on the dragon boat, you don't think about cancer," she said. "You don't think about treatment. You don't think about being sick. You're just out there on the water, with each other, working together to do something. You just concentrate on the water, the waves and getting where you are going."
DragonBoat Beaufort started in February after founders watched a documentary about a cancer-support rowing team in Charleston that races the boats in competitions across the country and world. The Beaufort organization went from idea to formal group quickly, raising money, creating a board and building a rowing team within weeks.
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It's a team effort in and out of the water. The boat won't move swiftly if team members aren't rowing together, and DragonBoat Beaufort wouldn't have grown so quickly without team members and supporters chipping in, participants said.
As a cancer survivor himself -- five years and two months in remission -- Dick Stewart and his wife, Sharon, didn't need any convincing when the organization asked for help.
"We see these people get excited and have fun and do something that is motivational, then we want to help with that," he said.
The Stewarts gave the $11,000 needed to push the group's fundraising total over the $16,000 price of the group first vessel, called Bravo! Organizer Clare Taylor called that effort just the beginning and said the group is already raising money for a second boat.
On Saturday, Bravo! glided into Port Royal Landing, where owner Tom Wilson has donated space to dock the 48-foot, 550-pound boat, Taylor said.
Now, the team will be able to practice in its own boat instead of traveling to Charleston or setting up two long lines of chairs in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park to simulate rowing, a common Saturday morning sight over the past few months.
Others are helping move things along in other ways.
Coach Greg Rawls, owner of Gregorie Glass, created an exclusive line of DragonBoat Beaufort jewelry, which can be found at the Lollipop Shop and The Gallery downtown. All proceeds go to the organization. Rawls also said he is tackling the job of painting Bravo!'s dragon head and tail, so she matches the dragon logo the organization uses.
The DragonBoat Beaufort story has been told to groups including Lowcountry Rotary, Downtown Beaufort and the Paula Williams Support Group at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Taylor said.
"More presentations will take place over the summer until the whole community knows who we are and what our mission is: Promoting physical and mental wellness among cancer survivors and their community through dragon boating," she said.
It's that kind of passion and giving that drew the Stewarts to the organization. Although Dick Stewart won't be paddling with DragonBoat Beaufort, he plans to root from shore when the team competes in the raft race during the Beaufort Water Festival. The festival runs from July 13-22.
"They're the kind of folks everybody wants to see and everybody wants to know because they are living life to the fullest," Stewart said.