You Can't Win 'Em All

by DavalosMcCormack on September 27, 2010

There is a moment right after you have crossed the finish line of a Dragon Boat race – you are drained physically and emotionally, your throat is raw from yelling, your arms and back and legs are burning from the effort of paddling the 300 meter course – and then you look around you to see how you did and you realize that not only did you not win but that you finished fourth. Or fifth. In a field of six. It’s tough.

It’s tough not just because you lost but also because it makes you wonder about all the effort you put in training for weeks before the race; getting up early on a Saturday morning to inflict pain on your body, getting covered in slimy lake water, and ending up with aches in places you didn’t even know you had worked out. For that one moment you wonder what was the point. All that for nothing. That’s when the hand on your back reminds you why you are there.

That sinking feeling

This weekend 24 of us competed in the CPMC boat in theĀ  Dragon Boat Festival on Treasure Island, along with dozens of other boats and hundreds of other competitors. Some do the sport year round, train hard, buy the best equipment, know what they are doing. We were in the novice division. We didn’t have our own boat. We didn’t even have our own paddles andĀ  had to use big, borrowed, clunky wooden ones (hey, the carbon fibre ones cost more than $200, would you pay that for something you were only doing for four Saturdays in September!). We had three Saturday morning training sessions and then it was race day.

We lost. Not badly, we certainly gave it our all and tried as hard as we could, but we lost all the same. That realization produces a sinking feeling which is never a good thing to have in a boat that is just barely above the water.

All in it together

But that’s when that hand on the back shakes you out of that and reminds you why you are there. Because it’s such an amazing experience to get into a boat on that first Saturday training session with a bunch of people, most of whom you don’t know, and emerge a few weeks later feeling like a team, knowing you are surrounded by people who will give their very best, that you are all in this together. That’s such an amazing feeling.

For so many of us exercise is a solitary experience. We go to the gym and jump on a bike or treadmill or lift weights. We go for a run or a walk. Even if you are taking an aerobics class you get to the end without the aid of anyone else in the class. In Dragon Boats, it’s all about the team. That’s why that hand on the back is so wonderful. It’s a teammate reaching out to share in that moment, to acknowledge defeat, but more importantly to acknowledge that we all went down together, working as hard as we possibly could.

The memory of that defeat will fade, just as the joy at winning medals in previous years fades. But the feeling of that hand on the back doesn’t fade. It’s what keeps me coming back year after year, and it’s what will ensure that this time next year, I’ll be there again, ready to climb into a boat armed only with a paddle and a life vest thinking “oh my god, why am I doing this?”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tess Angeles September 29, 2010 at 8:48 am

This article is great and really captured the emotion everybody shared during this Dragonboat race! The gold medal was the team spirit and the comraderie we felt with everyone.

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Davalos/McCormack October 18, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Hey Tess!!!!! So cool of you to comment! We had a great time, because of the team. See you next year!

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Sareen September 30, 2010 at 7:39 am

Great post and reflection :) Go CPMC Dragon Our Tails! (I paddled last year, but was cheering you on this year!)

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Davalos/McCormack October 18, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Dear Sareen, What the hell! Why weren’t you in the boat? Maybe next year!

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