Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nationals

The Canadian National Dragon Boat Championship races took place this weekend. The goal of the weekend wasn't to win the competition (in itself impressive for me to think about) but also for teams to race for the 5 positions Dragon Boat Canada was allocating for the Club Crew World Championship in 2010.

Approximately 50 teams were there. Under 23 years old (U23), over 40 years old (Seniors), over 50 years old (Grand Masters), women's teams, men's teams and mixed teams.

Saturday was a beautiful day. Hot, humid and sunny. My team, Montreal Mix, had three 500m races to compete in the morning. We didn't have a good start to the weekend. In the first race, the qualifier for division, we finished 9th overall and missed making A division by less than a second. That first result brought a number of people on the team down. I tried to keep upbeat and motivated and did all I could to pass on good energy to the team. Our second race (semi final B division) resulted in another 2nd place finish. We slipped to 10th place. Morale was sinking fast on the team. Before our third and final 500m of the day, a few minutes before we were going to start I tried my best to get the team up and in an aggressive mood but it didn't work - a third 2nd place finish.

Despite these disappointing results on Day 1, we had actually done better times than a month ago at MIDBRF. I fed the team homemade brownies and that seemed to cheer them up a little (or maybe it was just the chocolate talking).

Sunday morning started off cool, windy and rainy. Given the summer we've had, these were conditions we were used to during training and racing. We had three 250m races in the morning and the "final" 2000m in the afternoon. There were still some long faces as we were loading the boat for our first race and I'm pretty sure that didn't help us. 2nd place finish. Our coach reminded us all after that disappointing finish that Saturday was over, to stop thinking about it and really place our focus on winning today. An hour later we were ready for the second race but not prepared for another 2nd place finish. So frustrating. I don't know why, but I almost think that by this point everyone had had enough 2nd place finishes and were angry. Angry enough to pull it together as a team and FINALLY win our third race. And a beautiful race it was. An amazing start where we didn't have to play catch up with the other boats, then powered through the transition and straight into the finish of all finishes. You could really feel the boat pull ahead on the finish. It was incredible! That was the feeling I'd been waiting for all weekend from the team. Although the inconsistency is a sign of our inexperience (as a team), when it finally meant enough, we were able to do it and win. That is the team I know. It sure felt good to gloat in the face of the team who won the second race (bad, I know), especially when we found out they placed last in the final.

We then had about a 3-4 hour break until the 2000m at the end of the day. Time to watch the women's and men's teams race. Part of the joy of being at Nationals is that there are no beginner teams. All the paddlers are now experienced. Also - ha, ha, ha - there was certainly no shortage of buff bodies. Hey, I couldn't help noticing my surroundings :D

After a bit of a delay (there was a tie for 5th place in the men's teams so they had to race-off, Quebec vs. Alberta, QUEBEC WON!!!) we were finally ready for the 2000m race. There were 8 or 10 boats in our heat. The 2000m by the way, isn't just 2000m straight. It's a holding start from the shallow end of the basin, power through the start just to get to the starting line and going slightly beyond the 500m mark to turn. This is a tough race, not just for paddlers but for the steers too. Turning corners without losing too much speed is not for the faint of heart. Our coach likes that. He took us as close as possible to the buoys. There wasn't much action in our heat, only one boat passed another boat. I was happy that our arch enemies, who started behind us, never passed us. After our last turn, I could really feel every muscle in my body screaming at me to stop. But I gave it another little (well, big) push to get through. Suddenly we were at the 250m mark and I knew I could get through it. We finished the 2000m. Nobody fell out, the boat didn't die, we didn't tip. But then I had that feeling again. That bad feeling that I hadn't wanted to feel for another 10 years. Next thing I knew I had my head over the side of the boat and was puking my guts out for the second time this year. Because you know me, I have to prove that I've really put everything into it. Because I have to go and listen to our coach when he says "I want everyone puking after this one!" Thankfully, I hadn't eaten much. Racing seems to kill my appetite. Anyway - my old coach from the women's team, sits on the bench behind me and was proud that he got some of my barf on his paddle. Not really what I was going for but there you go.

Finally off the boat and back to our tent area, it felt good to sit down for a minute and breathe properly. A few minutes later, the most incredible thing happened. The results of our 2000m heat. We finished FIRST! It's never easy to tell how you do in this race because the boats leave every 10 seconds and even if you pass a boat it doesn't necessarily mean you're going fast, they could just be going slow. Anyway - when I found out we finished first I felt that everything had been worth it, even barfing.

For somebody who knew nothing of dragon boating 3 years ago, who joined a women's team to have some fun and practice for 1 hour a week 2 years ago, who got the bug and started training with a mixed team 7 to 10 hours a week last year - I have come a long way. OK - we didn't make the A division. Yes, it's disappointing to find out that the dream of competing in Macau next year is over. But wow, it's been some ride anyway. Even though we didn't quite reach our goal this weekend I can honestly say I loved getting to this point. And my resolve to retire from the competitive team is quickly dying. Despite the huge amounts of Advil I've been swallowing ;)

1 comment:

Sue Titcombe said...

That's an excellent recap. Sounds like a great time. Congratulations!