Determined to conquer Cooper River bridge, Charleston woman outrunning cancer

It's been just over two years since Sarah Alcantara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and she says now that training for the Bridge Run "has only proved to me that I am not what happened to me." Buy this photo

After surgeries, radiation and a 60-pound weight gain, Sarah Alcantara climbs the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, day after day.

Sarah Alcantara

Age: 23

Born: Bristol, Va.

Occupation: Waitress and bartender at Red Lobster in West Ashley

Diagnosis: Medullary thyroid cancer in February 2011. Doctors removed her thyroid gland and a tumor that had started growing over her heart.

Turning point: “Last October, I stepped on the scale and was horrified at how much weight I had gained. Gaining 60 pounds was unreal to me.”

Her goal: To finish the Cooper River Bridge Run, her first 10K

Her charity: One of a two-person team called Team Lobster (teamlobsterchs.com) that is raising money for Camp Happy Days.

Her motto: “Training for the Bridge Run has shown me that I am not what happened to me. I can be whatever I choose to become.”

On Instagram: MRS_ALCANTARA

She says she's not a runner, that she didn't always have confidence. She's working on that.

“Training has only proved to me that I am not what happened to me,” the 23-year-old says of preparing for the Cooper River Bridge Run. “I am what I choose to become.”

Tens of thousands will lace up running shoes and stretch their hamstrings and quads Saturday morning to trek 150 feet above the Cooper River and conquer the true mountain of Mount Pleasant. For 36 years, runners and walkers have set the Cooper River bridge — now the Ravenel — as an inspirational beacon in overcoming obstacles and tragedies — divorce, loss of a loved one, illness or a recommitment to healthy living.

“So many people start these goals for themselves. They've never run before and then they run the bridge and they tell their friends about it,” says race Director Julian Smith. “And it sets a domino effect.”

Alcantara, a waitress and a bartender at the Red Lobster in West Ashley, intends to conquer the bridge. She has been documenting her training on the social media site Instagram (MRS_ALCANTARA), her posts offering a humorous mix of attitude and humility.

She strikes a goofy pose with a leg extended in one picture, holds a Bridge Run poster with a thumbs up in another and flexes her right bicep in yet another shot while puckering her lips. Most of her posts include a calendar with the number of days left before the run.

“She's the kind of people who keeps that smile on and keeps the people around her happy,” says Morton Marianni, her boss at the Red Lobster in Cherry Hill, N.J., where she moved from.

'She's real decisive'


Alcantara didn't always have something to smile about.

In February 2011, a doctor diagnosed her with medullary thyroid cancer. That meant removing her thyroid gland and a tumor that had started growing over her heart.

Without her thyroid, which helps control metabolism and provide energy, Alcantara lost her motivation and began gaining weight — 60 pounds in the span of one year.

By Halloween, Alcantara was disheartened when the little black dress she bought for a party didn't fit. That wardrobe frustration changed everything. It was then she made up her mind to run.

“She's real decisive,” says her husband, 24-year-old Bruno Alcantara, who hails from Anapolis, Brazil. He works at Red Lobster too, and also serves as a motor vehicle transportation specialist for the Army Reserve. “Whenever she wants something, she'll go and do it.”

Since deciding to run, Alcantara has lost 35 pounds. She's never run a 10K before. But then again, this has nothing to do with being the fastest.

“I feel that the biggest hurdle I'm facing is to feel accomplished again,” says Alcantara, originally from Bristol, Va.

Mission to finish


In the days leading up to the race, Alcantara has been running a 10-minute-mile pace. Last week she practiced short-distance sprints up the bridge's steeper incline, catching her breath and talking about her plans. She and Bruno have a dream of living on four corners of the continental United States. Red Lobster has assured them it will provide employment where they move to next.

The couple met in Cherry Hill in December 2010 and married in May 2011. They moved to Charleston in March 2012, and they will head to Vancouver in June. After that they will land somewhere in California. They're not sure.

Alcantara says her younger years are the right time to allow her and Bruno to roam.

As for whether the cancer will return, she says she's not sure whether doctors are being optimistic for her that it won't, or if they truly are optimistic. She celebrated one year in remission in February. If the cancer doesn't reappear in another four years, she is considered cancer-free.

For now, Alcantara lives similarly to how she will run the race Saturday morning. She intends to finish.

And like the words tattooed across her chest above the place where cancer once thrived, she knows “today is a gift.”



Reach Andy Lyons at 937-4799 and follow him on Twitter at @andonews.

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