Now I'm a Dragon Healer, Denise, October 2015

I am a newbie at competitive dragon boat and this was my first season on the KP Dragon Healers team. I knew this team was special the first time I met them.

I am a healer. For me, it is a calling and not just a profession. I work as a psychiatrist.

I have a friend, Kim who works for KP and she told me about her dragon boat team. At my Halloween party last year she invited everyone that was interested to join them for a fun paddle and check it out. As I listened to her tell me about her experience it sounded so great to me. It was an outdoor sport that was intense, very challenging and would not be easily mastered. I could work for years challenging myself to grow and improve. I have some central nervous system sensory and motor coordination issues and this sport would strengthen my core, timing and coordination without stepping foot in a gym or lifting weights. Even better it was on water and it was a team sport. While I had some positive team experiences as an adolescent I'm more naturally a solo endurance athlete. It would push me to grow in all of my most vulnerable areas at once. I thought it would be a lot of fun for me. What an opportunity! It seemed like everything I wanted and needed just showed up on my doorstep.

My biggest fear was would a competitive dragon boat team let me join even if I wasn't at all good at it? I didn't think I was going to naturally pick it right up and just become a stand out or strong paddler. I wanted to work hard at learning it but I didn't want to interfere with the team training and competing at races.

Kim was very encouraging about me trying it even knowing my reservations and inexperience.

I jumped on it. So did my good friend Dan. Even better!

I was hooked from the first fun paddle. This sport, the coach, the captain and all the people on the team up bright and early on a Saturday morning to paddle on Lake Merced were my kind of people. My kind of work hard, play hard. They were serious about training and at the same time so friendly and fun. I loved being out on the water and I wanted so much to learn how to properly paddle!

I thought this could be a sport for me for years or maybe even a lifetime. This could be a kind of home to me. I was so excited. After finding out and considering what joining the team meant I went for it. I planned out my season.

I trained for a few months and loved every minute of it. The bruises and callus meant I was showing up and learning. A team that practices perfection while still being able to laugh and eat together is my kind of team! The team is led by a wonderful husband/wife team, Ross and Kathy Britt. This team is their child. They obviously love it and tirelessly work to nurture, protect and help it grow. They are true parents who provide a stable foundation and tend to each individual members' needs while at the same time tending to the family as a whole.

Ross is the head coach. He is a natural leader who quietly and authoritatively commands. When needed he speaks louder and firmly. He controls aggression and channels it productively. He is so precise and focused on mechanics. I have seen enough. If he says he thinks this is the specific way to do something then I trust it is the right way to do it. He is encouraging and his drive to drill comes from my kind of fatherly place. To me it's loving to teach your child to practice good habits and life skills while knowing learning is a process and recognizing limits. It's a bonus in my book if you can manage all that responsibility and still joke about things.

Kathy is the captain and mother of the team. I believed her right away when she told me dragon boat gave her the same high as long distance running. She feeds the team really great food which always scores points with me. She is always watching out for all the little things that mean so much inside and the finer details. She's a fierce leader in her own right and simultaneously functions filling in all the unmet needs behind the scenes. It's a never ending job. To me attending to all these things while still modeling good manners and properly conducting yourself is no easy job. It's a labor of love.

My season didn't go quite as I planned as I went out on medical leave for 10 weeks just as all the races started. I came back in time to participate in the last festival which is 2 days of races at Treasure Island. My first race as a paddler was going to be basically a marathon. Which is actually perfect for me!

I love paddling on Lake Merced. I know it's questionable water quality but it's also a beautiful home to me. It reminds me of the small brown lakes I happily swam in during my childhood summers in Illinois. I didn't know anything about the microbial life of the lakes at the time but I know I didn't die from accidentally swallowing some of it.

It was even better to paddle in the Bay water for races. The sun, the adrenaline and the intense competitive spirit among such a large group of people conducting themselves in such a collegial way truly stood out.

However, my team mates are the best. I can't name all the individuals here who took the time to be so encouraging, accepting and helpful to me. I will say though one of my team mates gave me my own personal moment for the festival. Bill bought 2 of the professional pictures of my boat in races and gave them to me. I thanked him for his kindness but it took me a minute to fully understand. He showed me how in the pictures I showed some timing and technique. Then I started to get it. I was already pretty happy as I had managed to achieve all my personal goals for my first race: don't capsize the boat, don't flail, don't freak out, don't hit anyone, don't lose your paddle in the water, don't pull your paddle in and give it everything you have on every push. I was having fun.

Bill helped me to see despite missing so much of the season I had still achieved my personal goal for my first season to learn something real about technique and timing. I even had a picture of it. I didn't look like a total spaz. In fact my team mate Vanessa said I looked kind of badass! My moment felt as great to me as winning a gold medal. I happily shared it first with my team mates and then my friends and family.

My moment in dragon boat felt like the first time I really hit a baseball with a real bat and safely made it to first base. I still remember the sound of that bat connecting with the ball. I couldn't have been happier if it was a home run. It was about 3 years ago and even sweeter that it took me so long to do it.

This sport and team have already given me so much. I love it and I'm grateful. Although don't get me wrong... I still want a gold medal! There is always next season. Or the 2017 season.

Now I'm a Dragon Healer.