The Race

"DRUMMERS ARE YOU READY?"

("Focus!")

("Get ready.")

I reach forward, left hand up high on the handle, and dip my paddle forward and down in the salty cold water, blade buried deep, my bottom right hand (gripping the taped shaft) wet in the water.

"ATTENTION PLEASE."

Drawing a deep breath; body tense and coiled.

"GO!"

Simultaneously an air horn blast sears the air: a screaming piercing prod to my adrenals that causes me to snap into action.

"AUGHHhhh!!!!!" I grunt a tremendous effort that is my first of five deep starting strokes.

My right leg kicks back and assists my drive back as I uncoil and pull the blade through the water and attack the water again.

"TWO!!" We all yell the count together.

And again ("MORE!!") I think and move my next stab an inch ahead of my starting stroke.

"THREE!!!"  

("MORE") Now I am reaching fully forward with each stroke and pulling hard to get this boat moving.

"FOUR!!!"

"FIVE!!!"

Now the boat has started its rise up and out of the water from a dead stop and is starting to move but now the next set of counts are to increase our speed to race speed:

"UP!! UP!! UP!!"

Now our rate increases. Water is flying everywhere. It is splashing into my face, on my arms, and pounding back on the face of my paddle as I punch it forward to attack position. Some of us are tasting the salty Bay water as we fight to breath and yell our counts at the same time.

"4! 5! 6! 7! 8! 9!"

"UP!! UP!! UP!!"

"READY and REACH! REACH!! REACH!!!"

Now we are beginning to fly through the water and we slow down our stroke rate to a sustainable race pace; digging deep and keeping forward on every stroke. I am looking forward to my Stroke for my timing and am vaguely aware of the drum beats that time our rate.


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It was back in March when the Lake was cold and the air colder as it blew across our shivering crew that the our team, the Kaiser Permanente Dragon Healers started their season. Some "newbies" and some veterans, this is the domain of all dragon boaters, early mornings, shivering with goosebumps galore and eager to get moving.

We had people milling about waiting for our first line-up and boat assignments.

Our coaches lined us up and gave us our seat assignments.

The newbies had to borrow their paddles from the green-faced wooden ones the CDBA provides by the lake and also the colorful but ripe-smelling personal flotation devices (PFDs).

You can tell the veterans who not only have their own paddles (wooden and carbon) but also their own PFDs, their own water and even their own seat pads. The ones of us who also know how much water is splashed have dark glasses to keep the water out of our eyes and visors to keep the sun glare out of our faces. You tend to learn after a few practices what makes your practice more comfortable.

Butt hurt? Then get a seat pad. Some just get a garden kneeling pad to sit on, others use ones specifically for dragonboating, just to keep their sit bones from getting too tender.

Those who have practiced the two hard hours know that it is too easy to get dehydrated and bring water. They know that after a practice race, how parched you can get.


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"ONE! TWO!"

"ONE! TWO!"


"POWER TEN NOW!!" The Drummer screams over the din of her own and the other boat drums.

We are driving this boat as hard as we can and we refocus our timing and energy with 10 counted hard strokes.

"ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR! FIVE! SIX! SEVEN! EIGHT! NINE! TEN!"

We all count together (if we can--the effort to count and paddle hard can easily wind you).

We repeat this over and over for about 2 minutes, focusing only on our timing and our power, only marginally aware that there are five other boats in other lanes doing nearly the same calls and power tens that we are doing. Our goal is to focus within and drive hard to the finish line.


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After months of practice, waking up too early for too many weekends, or paddling until we are soundly tired at the end of each practice, we all get up early one final weekend for the Kaiser Permanente-sponsored Dragon boat Festival. This festival marks the end of our paddling season at Treasure Island, "TI" and we are racing in our final race. We are told to "leave it on the water"; expend all your energies and hold nothing back.

Now, with the salt water literally showering us and the sound of paddles snapping against the water and waves, we drive hard, harder and hardest, we know only that we want to do our best for the team.

Winning is always great but the best effort of everyone in that boat, driving hard with one unified stroke, it our ultimate goal.


§

"FINISH IT NOW!!!"

We know the finish line is now in sight and we begin our surge to push every last ounce of strength to move this boat ahead of anyone else. We increase our rate.

UP!! UP!! UP!!

"FOUR! FIVE! SIX! SEVEN! EIGHT! NINE! TEN!"
 
The boat is pulsing now, surging with each unified stroke to get this boat over the finish line

PUSH!!

PUSH!!

PUSH!!

PUSH!!


"COME ON HEALERS!" Screams of encouragement and "PUSH!" as we know the finish is seconds away.

It becomes almost a chant.

"PUSH! PUSH! PUSH! PUSH!

We continue pushing hard, stabbing and pulling the water repeatedly with each push. Some of us cannot see, there is so much salt spray hitting our face. Much of that salt water stinging our eyes even getting behind the dark glasses we wear to protect them.

We concentrate on pushing as hard as we can until we hear the magic phrase.

"LET IT RIDE!!!!"

Nearly everyone is spent when we finally stop. Some gasping, some whoop and cheer, looking around.

"What place did we finish?" "How'd we do?"

Our attention is quickly refocused when we hear the Steers-person command,

"HOLD THE BOAT!"

Twenty paddles jamb into the water halting our forward speed.

"PADDLES UP! TAKE IT AWAY!"

Now we get the boat started towards the loading docks were the volunteers wait to take us off and load up the next heat's teams. Somewhat confused and tired muscles protest as we urge them again to pull us back in towards the dock.

We arrive back on land to see a sea of smiling whooping faces of our teammates who have formed a welcoming gauntlet of sorts. They are lined up two abreast facing us with their inner hands extended towards each other but beaming at us, urging us to run between this human tunnel of arms and hands and smack as many high and low fives as we can manage while we trot through. Dozens of gloved and un-gloved hands are held out to welcome the tired but exhilarated team as we finish our final race.

I run between them, hearing sounds of encouragement and "Well done" and I know that the while this season and race may be over this is certainly not my last dragon boat race for a long time. It was just too much fun.

"Good Job Healers!!" See you on the water!

-Glenn