A few weekends ago, I woke up excited to get back to the seat that I have left for the past ten years. The seat in a dragon boat.
I started rowing at 17. For someone who never knew how to swim, who had never committed herself to any sports long enough and close to being obese at that time, it was quite a challenge for me. To this day, it is still amazing to me how I could stay in this sport for three years and still love it till now.
Dragon boating was the first sport that I actually took up to and it was taking this sports that helped me lost 18kg, helped regain confidence and built my resilience.
So it was really a quite phenomenal and memorable moment to be back, looking at the familiar boats and paddles as memories flooded back to me. I walked to a tree and saw the cones on the ground. It was the same place where I stood with my other teammates for warm-ups and at times, having to lie on the cones (*ouch) for sit-ups and push-ups on the ground. I felt the hot bright sun and the blazing heat on my hair. It has been such a long time since I’ve been outdoors so early on a weekend.
The boat of rowers came and they parked at the pontoon so I could board. As I walked in the boat, the familiarity feeling all came back to me. The buoyancy, the pairs of shoulders sitting close the gun rail, the warm wooden seat, the kicking board and the paddle. I got myself seated in no time. My grip of the paddle felt so familiar yet so new. It was the wooden paddle but not how it used to be anymore – it’s the improved version.
It was a ten-men small boat with only two pairs of rowers, plus a coxswain and the coach. The first hour was pretty awkward as I introduced myself to the team and spoke only briefly with the lady coxswain.
The rowers turned out to be quite new to dragon boat. They had only done three sessions so far.
My first dip in water followed by the swirling motion and the swishing music of the water as I pulled the paddle backwards and drew out of the water with a splash was nostalgic. I felt I was me at 17 again.
The 17-year-old me when I felt most confident and powerful at that time, not because of my earning power or my experience, but because at that time I was one of the stronger rowers in my team who form the power pack that support the boat from the back.
At my prime, I could lift weights a guy could do sets of circuits, run long distances and eat healthy at that time.
In this team sport, we would always run alongside each other, stand behind each other when we carry weights, follow the leader so we had synchronised strokes, and motivate each other in the boat especially when we see someone slowing down or giving up.
This was what I saw in the new rowers in this boat too.
The Friendly Race 
As we were in the last half hour of the training, the guys in our boat briefly mentioned that they wanted to challenge the other boat to a friendly match. And so we did. We got half a boat head start because the other team comprised of intermediate rowers (our boat were beginners), and their boat was twenty men boat with six pairs of rowers (ours was half of theirs).
You could almost feel the low confidence emitting from within our boat.
One of them said it’s quite impossible to win, with the mentality “Who are we to compete with them?”
The coach said, “If you win, then you are great. Even if you didn’t, no one will blame you,” and I added “Take it as a challenge. Just give your best.”
I thought we could not do it either, not knowing how experienced the other team was, but I thought it was a good experience for the new guys.
As the race started, there was that moment of excitement coming back again.
There was a moment of frenzied confused pace as the first pair of rowers went as fast as they could and we had to follow to synchronise our strokes. But the motivation was high, the mood was different. Determined.
We had a good great start. There was a fully-charged feeling coming from our boat.
We could hear the other team, but they were behind us.
The first half of the race we rowed with high spirit, drive and charge.
Mid way the race, we began to slow down because the pace was so fast that it was tiring us all out.
One of them shouted, ‘Go longer’, and almost immediately, the strokes became slower with each long deep stroke.
One of two of them protested that they can’t do it.
I feel my old self coming back at them, doing what I would have done before.
“Take it as a challenge. Just give your best.”
“Come on guys! Push it!” I yelled.
“Keep going”, said the coxswain,
“Come on, we’re half way there,” another shouted.
“Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten!” We all counted together.
The other boat was catching up, but they were still behind us.
“In your boat”, I yelled to remind them to keep their focus on our boat.
We were reaching the end now.
“Guys, last stretch! Give it all you have!” one shouted in between gasps.
And Easy, we stopped rowing.
We won.
The smaller boat, with fewer rowers and least experience, won!
We cheered, we clapped and we gasped to catch our breaths. Everyone was quiet for a moment.
I’m not sure if it was them taking in the unbelievable moment, or they were simply too tired to say anything further.
No one thought we could win, even we doubted ourselves but we did it. 
It was just like the old times.
The amazing feeling when you thought you couldn’t do it but you kept pushing on another stroke, and another stroke. That feeling when you know you have someone who will push you to do more, when your team believed in you, that you could achieve miracle together, that you could do it.
So it appeared that No Strategy was the Best Strategy for that race, but we did have a strategy; We kept our focus on our boat and gave it all we could, even when everyone else and ourselves doubted us!
I spent three years training with my team, learning the right strokes – the angle, the dip, the pull, the Jay-template, when to pull out of the water and kick, and the various strokes.  We went through many races with the various sets of hard pulls, followed by speed, and maintenance to charging up before the last stretch and we stuck with a particular strategy but we seldom won. This time we did it, with a boat full of newbies who knew nothing about these strokes, who only wanted to win so badly.
In dragon boat, we don’t ever give up on anyone because we are IN the same boat.
And you will never want to be a dead-weight that pull the team down.
How Has Dragon Boating Changed My Life?
  • The importance of finding the right team/support. 
    Truth be told, I stumbled into the sport. I didn’t even want to sign up for it. My course mate at that time was. She didn’t last too long but I found a belonging in the team because some of us had common goals.
  • Being there for one another.
    When I faced academic/personal/fitness problems, my team was there for me. When we graduated and moved on in life, these team mates were still part of our lives. We shared our ups and downs, failures and victories. There was no judgement, only support and encouragement, which made me feel prideful I was part of it.  
  • Don’t win alone – encourage each other to grow.  
    A team can only be as strong as its weakest team member. I could do heavier weights than the fastest runner on the team, but when we’re in the boat, we’re all the same.

    One for all, All for one. Progress together, or fail together.

  • Don’t give up when it’s not the end yet 
    The sweetest part is when you overcome that toughest period and came out a winner! Whenever you come head on with a difficulty, find your way to overcome it – get around in, under it, over it or break the barrier. Build your resilience!
  • Commitment is key. 
    You can have the best team in the world or the best coach, but if you don’t turn up, what change could there be? Be committed to what you decide on and really stick with it, and victory will be yours soon.
  • Progress is imminent, no matter how small you start. Just keep going. (Tweet It) 
    Sometimes, the training sessions seemed to last forever, especially when your coach doesn’t ever tell you the program for that day! Much like life, you will never know what’s coming next. You will struggle and question your capability, but as long as you bite through each session, over time you find yourself getting stronger and better. Press on and you will emerge a survivor!
  • Believe in yourself. 
    I was close to 80kg when I first joined. After deciding to commit to it, I attended every session. I panted and wheezed my first 2.4km run and completed after 20 min. By the third year, I had a gold for my fitness test and 18kg lighter.  
Dragon boating has changed me as much as my life views.
It has developed me so much as a person; from the challenges I overcame; the sprints; the resistance training, the rowing sessions with heavy tires, the thousands of burpees, butterfly crunches, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups we did as a team; the tears of joy and sadness in each race and life events, only made victory more worthy of celebration, and the journey more memorable. It built my character, broke my limits, expanded my comfort zone, tightened my muscles, lost my fats and taught me about teamwork.
When I look back, I still have that warm fuzzy feeling in my heart, the memories my team and I shared and the training we have been through. The sessions were no easier than having to go to exams unprepared, but the people in the team made it easier to come back to (building relationships). I was taught to bite through it (grit & resilience), learn to motivate each other to keep going (support) and do more each set (challenge & improve myself).
I remember the times when I didn’t want to go, I felt bad at letting my team down (built on my accountability); when I know I can support my team (responsibility); and the times when I know I’d rather be there than wasting my time on other unproductive activities (loving what I do).
The times when I decided to go through, I reaped more than I thought.
This was more than a sport that built me, this was the one that changed my life.
What about you? Do you have a sport that challenges your limits too? How has it changed you and your views of life?
More read: The One Ingredient Required in Overcoming Challenges
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