Lowcountry Woman Paddles Tough Waters to Become Dragon Boat Champion

October 12, 2017, 10:23 am EST | Share:

CHARLESTON, SC (ALEX HEATON, WTAT-TV) — A Charleston woman hopes to become a national champion in a sport that dates back two thousand years. She is a member of the United States National Dragon Boat Team – but it was a tough road just to make the team, but an even tougher journey to be here today.

“It is surreal,” she said. “I’m still trying to take it all in as humble as I know how.”

Jessica Key is still paddling the high from all her hard work.

“I would go to work, do the 40-hour thing, and after work, I would do another training,” she said. “I’d leave home when it was dark and come home when it was dark. Sometimes my kids were already asleep.”

In a little more than a year she paddled her way to a top spot on the US National Dragon Boat Team – and those practices in the Rivertowne retention pond paid off.

“It’s a really, really competitive sport. We have woman elite athletes from all over the country.”

She’s still isn’t sure how she gained one of the coveted seat, though, because there are only 22 seats for 20 paddlers, a steerer and a drummer. But she knows it has something to do with faith and her fight.

“For me, even though I had all these odds stacked against me, I was always a fighter,” she said. “I would never quit, even though I was an alcoholic by the time I was a senior in highschool, I was a drug addict. I did crystal meth. I even tried to commit suicide. All these things that happened I knew that there was more to me. I knew that I had a gift.”

She knows exactly who exactly who she sees when she looks in the mirror.

“I see someone who overcame insurmountable odds. Someone who has trained so hard, who has sacrificed so much to be at this level, and I am truly humbled and grateful for that.”

So when the team and the boat hit the water in China next week, Key will tap into her new found strength and beat to the drums of a childhood that gave her a love for the water.

“I grew up paddling in the outrigger canoes which is a six man canoe,” she said. “I was able to learn to trust my teammates and people in general. The sport gave me life. I know I have saltwater in my veins.”

Key leaves Friday for California, where team members from all over the country will meet for one last training session before heading to China for the world championship.