'The sea and cancer both test your strength'

The five women face five weeks at sea before arriving in Barcelona.
The five women face five weeks at sea before arriving in Barcelona. / PANKRA NIETO
  • Not just a sporting challenge

  • Five women who have survived breast cancer are sailing round Spain from Bilbao to raise awareness of the illness

  • The women arrived in Malaga on Monday as part of their voyage

Sport has always been part of María Aldama's life, but it became even more indispensable to her in 2017, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a double mastectomy. Nevertheless, the illness wasn't able to stop her and she is now taking part in an ambitious challenge as one of five cancer survivors who are sailing around Spain.

They set off last week from Bilbao, as part of the sixth Pelayo Vida Challenge 2020. The 38-year-old teacher from Vizcaya is competing with Marian Cáliz, 48, who is an architect; 39-year-old environmentalist Lorena Madrid from Murcia; Fátima Domínguez, 56, who has a degree in Fine Arts and is from Chiclana de la Frontera; and 44-year-old Nuria Gómez, a marine scientist from Teruel.

"It's going to be an incredible experience, a real challenge. I had never practised sailing before being chosen to take part in this adventure, but I have discovered that at sea you face different situations every day. Having cancer is similar in a way; you don't know what you're going to find the next day. You think you can't cope with it, but then you find inner strength," said María.

The sailing team in Malaga on Monday.

The sailing team in Malaga on Monday. / FRANCISCO HINOJOSA

It will take the five women two weeks to get to Barcelona, captained by one of the country's finest athletes, Ángela Pumariega, who won a gold medal in the Elliott 6-metre class at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The coronavirus has changed all their plans and although the Pelayo Challenge was initially going to take place in Jordan, it is being held in Spain instead.

Double blow

Cancer dealt María Aldama a double blow. Just a day or so after she found out that she had the illness, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Three years later, they have both recovered.

The team will live together on board the 'Green Dragon', which was built in 2008 to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race. They will navigate the Cantabrian Sea, the Atlantic. the Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar, stopping in the ports of Cadiz, Malaga and Valencia before berthing in Barcelona on 24 October.

It will be a test for their bodies and their minds, but at the same time it will raise awareness of breast cancer (19 October is World Breast Cancer Day) and the importance of research in order to win the battle against the illness. In María's case, a small lump in one served as a warning that something was happening in her body.

The crew get on well - "we got to know each other by videocall during the lockdown and then in training, and now it's as if we have known each other all our lives," - and María is confident that they will achieve their objective. However, above all, she wants other women who are in the same situation to know that they will be able to get through it. "If we can do it, so can they," she says.