Oh What A Rush, Vanessa, June 2015
I'm staring at the ceiling. It's midnight. My stomach begins to sing a symphony of stress. I roll over hoping to just relax but I'm too anxious to sleep. I know this feeling all too well. It's the night before the CBDA Dragon Boat regatta. It's the first race of my second season with the San Francisco Dragon Healers. I say to myself "Vanessa, you have done this before; you are going to be just fine." The physical exhaustion finally wins the battle with my persistent mental gymnastics. I finally fall asleep. As I fall into a relaxing slumber, I hear the chiming of my phone next to me. It's time to rise.
I get to the race site, and get the mixed greeting of excited team mates, and some (younger) teammates who look like they have 100 lb eyelids. We are all here early to set up our campsite for the day. We all have designated jobs. After the hustle and bustle of setting up the tents, eating breakfast, and helping to unload the racing boats, we rest for a little bit before we warm up. All of these rituals may seem trivial, but it is all physical and mental preparation for our race day. There is so much effort, teamwork, organization, communication, and patience that go into race day.
When it is finally time to hit the water, the feeling from 1 AM returns. The stress symphony, the mental gymnastics, and to top it off, my heart is racing. "Not yet, heart- we haven't even started the race." We line up the boats. We focus into our boat. We are listening to every instruction given to us by the officials. "Move up two strokes. Hold. Move back one stroke. Hold hard." Every muscle in my body feels like it will explode at any second. I feel like a racehorse awaiting the opening of my stall.
"Controlled aggression" is what the coach keeps telling us and that is what I focus on. I must make every stroke strong and deliberate. Every stroke counts. I am in this boat with my team- and I have to get this boat 500 meters down this race course. My team relies on me. I rely on them. I am holding my paddle for dear life. I take a moment to visualize my paddle being the connecting bond between the water and my body.
The horn blows. I start counting with the drummer and other team mates on the boat- 1..2...3..4...5.... Up! Up! Up! We continue this to get the boat up to speed. The whole team moves as one in the boat. It is like an old dance routine.
As we get up to speed, I focus on the first row paddlers (stroke seat). My body already is calling out to me "This is tough, Vanessa. Why are you doing this? How about you chill out?" NO!!! I know I must push. I must paddle as strong as I possibly can.
We get to the middle of the race. I can feel the fatigue set in. I then fixate my energy into the boat even more. My team mates keep me in the race. I don't give up. Every stroke counts. I know this will be over in less than 2.5 minutes. Then finally I hear the call "finish it now!" This is the time we shift the rate up and start to sprint to the finish line. I can feel the boats next to me. We are neck and neck. I want to win. We have trained so hard for this moment; we must push ourselves to our maximal potential. As I bury my paddle blade into the water, pushing through the water as hard as I can, I hear my seat partner yell "PUSH!" We are all pouring out our heart and soul to get this boat past the finish line.
"Let it ride." Ahh. Wow. What just happened? It's very common at this point to be completely clueless what place we came in. The curiosity of how well we did quickly vanishes when I feel the wet hand on my shoulder tap me from behind. My team mate in a forceful and out-of-breath, exclaims "good job." I return this wonderful compliment and this soon travels throughout the whole boat. We thank our steerer, who gave us a straight course, and we thank our drummer, who kept us in time and played the unofficial sports psychologist before and during our race. It's these moments I live for. I feel connected to my team, the dragon boat, the water, the earth, and myself. My body just went through a physically grueling experience and I survived it. When we all get off the boat and onto land, our coach, steerer, and drummer give us a little debrief of how the race went.
These are key points we discuss to help us for our next race. Every aspect of dragon boat racing encompasses why sports/team activities are so important to one's physical and mental well-being. There is support, companionship, teamwork, dedication, and love. There are tough times with frustrations, personality clashes, and stress. No matter what, I know my team is there for me, and I am there for them. All of the hard work and time do pay off. I'm proud of my team. I'm proud of myself. We all finish together.
We are one boat one crew !