On my first scheduled day to practice with a dragon boat team, I sat in my car and tried to talk myself out of it. That I was out of shape since graduate school was just part of it. As I stared out at the expansiveWillametteRiverI realized once I climbed in that boat, there’d be no turning back.
I suppose as a Type A person I have a bit of a need to be in control. Yet I was about to jam myself in a boat with 20 other women and head up a very large river. A few months later, I would be very glad I got out of the car that day and into the boat. Paddling allowed me to stretch beyond my Type A comfort zone in three important ways:
Learn something new
I nervously climbed into the boat, and tried to pick up the paddling stroke. I was fairly coordinated and had done some random kayaking and canoeing, but I was never a serious athlete.
To plant your paddle as far forward in the water as possible, they push you to reach forward as far as you can, then twist and reach again, so your outside arm is as physically far away from your body as you can wrench it. I would twist and stretch until my ribs just felt stuck – and the coaches would yell at me to reach further. It was humbling; I worked very hard and still made mistakes.
Lawyers are notoriously defensive, and it was hard for me to shake off the criticism, not take it personally, and keep moving. But I managed to.
You don’t have to be the best
I was used to getting all A’s on tests but in paddling, I was a solid C student working hard not to get a D. Some days I was so tired I wanted to cry or give up, and for a while it was a goal just to complete the practice without having stopped too many times.
The funny thing is – I decided that was okay. I didn’t need to be the best paddler on the boat, and it wasn’t likely I would achieve that status anyway. The goal was not to be the best; the goal was simply to be a strong member of the team.
Letting someone else be in charge
Out on the boat, I was usually too tired to do anything but follow the coaches. The problem in paddling with a group of lawyers is, I much as I was willing to let someone else be in charge, most of my boatmates were not. They wanted to argue about every little choice the coaches made as we travelled up and down the river, but I just concentrated on paddling.
One of our coaches was this tiny athletic woman with amazing muscles and a drill instructor’s bark. I trusted her completely, and realized I started to half enjoy letting someone else tell me what to do for a change.
I really came to enjoy paddling, and for me, part of the enjoyment was getting into the rhythm of the boat, listening to all the paddles swish into the water together and come out of the water together. Truly being part of a team, instead of trying to lead the team, was a great experience.