When I arrived as an immigrant to Canada, I was determined to throw myself into my new community. I wanted to meet new people, try new hobbies and activities, and make this new place feel more like home. Especially as truth be told, I was missing my native London, so very much.
I tried winter running, dance class, and even knitting, but the activity that came to dominate the next seven years of my life was dragon boating.
Dragon boat racing is all about the team. Twenty paddlers (not rowers) must stay in stroke to move the boat up and out of the water. Brightly colored and decorated dragon’s heads adorn each craft, where the caller or drummer sits and keeps the team in time. The roots of this sport stretch back 2000 years to southern China.
It’s not uncommon for paddlers and coaches to fall into the water, or for near-boat collisions to occur. We even paddle in torrential rainstorms as part of a normal practice. Dragon boating is definitely not a dull sport.
During the famous Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival I realized that I am actually quite competitive. At the beginning of each race, as the boats lined up, I would give the paddlers on the next boat my best effort at psych-out eye contact, before staring straight ahead at the finish line and getting my race face on.
When I first started with a city beginners team, we didn’t always qualify for race day or sometimes not enough members of our team would show up to compete. But as I gained experience and moved onto more competitive and serious teams, I started to really get a bug for festivals. There’s something about a tent village that excites and intrigues me with everyone dressed in their team shirts and the general business of race day. I made amazing friends that turned every scheduled event into giggle sessions and had me looking forward to the next practice.
The camaraderie was part of the reason why I was able to push forward when my body had given up. During the last stretch of a race, when every muscle in my body cried out for me to stop, I would catch sight of my teammates burying the blade and it helped me dig deeper. As the coach would yell “Give it everything you’ve got!” We would let loose and with grunts and groans that came from somewhere deep inside, and we would find one last reserve of energy and somehow sneak past the finish line.
We competed at different festivals across our city and neighboring areas. When the opportunity arose to take the crew on the road and travel to Florida to compete, it turned into a girls’ vacation rather than just a sporting trip.
Paddling in Mouse Ears
Having caught a different flight from my teammates, I arrived in Orlando, in the early hours of the morning. The hotel receptionist seemed a bit disorganized as I told her I was with the dragon boat team. I let myself in the room and I crashed out on the couch, trying not to disturb my teammates.
Little did I know there were several teams staying at the same hotel, which is why I was faced with a total stranger when I woke up the next morning. They were from the same city and decided not to murder me. but it was still a little unsettling, especially as I had helped myself to a banana from their fruit bowl and spent the rest of the trip apologizing for stealing their fruit.
We had to attend practice on the Thursday with the races held on Friday and Saturday, but the rest of the time was ours to enjoy. We certainly were in a good mood after crushing our opponents and winning the First place medal and trophy in the Community Women’s Grand Final!
We walked through Disney Springs and felt magical at the sight of the trees all lit up and the excitement that permeates the place. Our childhood favorite characters roamed the grounds and every few minutes something or someone would break into dance or energetic song. We also spent a long day at the Animal Kingdom, watching the wild animals on the Kilimanjaro safari and taking pictures of the Tree of Life. I barely survived a ride on Expedition Everest roller coaster, as my teammates ran back to the start for another go, I had to sit on a bench and concentrate on not throwing up. I vowed there and then I am done with roller coasters!
We stayed at the World Quest resort in Orlando and found the pool and hot tub became another favorite part of our trip and felt especially good on our sore muscles after our race victory.
I became even closer with two paddlers and a series of naughty high jinks ensued, leaving us dubbed as The 3 Amigo’s. Those in-jokes and pranks cemented our friendship and made us a team.
When you travel for an event whether it’s a sporting competition or musical or dance recital, the purpose of your trip is to compete. Therefore any other experiences that you manage to fit in after fulfilling your obligation, feel like a bonus. Our obligation was to bring home the bling, which we did. Our bonus was a mini break just for adults in the most magical place on Earth.