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Jan 18, 2012

2012 "Meanies" (aka your loving coaching staff)

A new year signals new beginnings, which means a new season! What comes along with this new 11th season is a new set of "MEANIES" (aka coaches) to take you towards your paddling goals. They're new, they're motivated, and they're there for YOU! But without your continued commitment and effort, they'd be like a bunch of steerers with no paddlers! They don't come out all-knowing though, nor do they claim to be. In fact, at one point or another they were "new" just like anyone else. 

Here are some stories from your 2012 fitness and coaching staff sharing their earliest experiences on their humble beginnings within the sport of dragon boating as you consider this Chinese proverb...
"To get through the hardest journey we need only take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping."
Emily
The first dragon boat team I paddled on was the Microsoft corporate team.  I was up in Seattle interning there for the summer, and a friend of mine from NYC had told me about dragon boat before.  We had 5 practices and then raced at the Kent Dragon Boat Festival, and I had a lot of fun, enough that the next year, I joined the MIT dragon boat team for the Boston race and Space Dragons later that summer, both of which were festival teams at the time.

I always thought paddling was a fun past time, like playing beach volleyball after work or surfing on the weekends.  In 2006, I got my first taste of real competitive racing.  Space Dragons used to practice only Saturdays, and we had added Sundays and Wednesdays only a year before, so we were nothing like the team we are today.  That year, I went to US Nationals in Tampa and the ICF Dragon Boat World Championships in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  Never before had I seen boats run with such clean timing and with such large wakes off the bow.  I met people who had been paddling for 20+ years, many of whom had paddled in World Championships before.  I was in awe of their stories and experiences, and all the cool international jerseys they had traded for.  They knew when to sleep, how to stretch, what to pack, and what to eat and drink so their bodies were in top shape for the races.  I was clueless.  My eyes were opened to a whole new level of dragon boat competition that I didn't even know existed.  And that was only the start.

These days, Space Dragons participates in races, such as Alcan, where some of the fastest teams in the world compete, so our newbies are introduced to the larger world of dragon boat immediately, either by attending those races themselves or hearing the stories from fellow teammates.  But that wasn't always the case, and I was the fish in a little pond who didn't realize how big the ocean really was.
Rod
I’ve been fairly active in a variety of athletic activities pretty much my whole life. Coach Joe and I used to hit the weight room before work way back when Northrop was TRW. I played League Basketball for several years and practiced Wushu for over 5 years. I even competed at the 2000 Nationals in San Diego. So when Coach Joe invited me to come out and try Dragon Boating I thought to myself, " hmm…paddling?...couldn’t be that hard." Was I in for a surprise! My muscles ached in places I never knew I had muscles. My paddling technique was absolutely horrible. I had terrible timing issues and a really bad bobble head. But as one season turned to two, two turned to three, eventually with the help and encouragement of all of the coaches I cleaned up my paddling technique, got rid of my bobble head and improved on my timing. I even learned to steer. Moral to this story? Never give up as hard as it may seem. No matter how much your body screams of pain and muscles ache, these things are only temporary. But the memories of training and competition and the bonds we build together with the Space Dragon Family will live on. “Gunnels… Set…Go”!!
Devant
I'd consider myself a coordinated,  athletic person. I've climbed 5.13 routes, bouldered V9 problems, ran a 5-minute mile, walked slacklines, and snowboarded double black diamond runs. But of all those activities and talents, none have provided the same type of challenge and satisfaction while maintaining its competitive spirit as the sport of dragon boat--particularly with the Space Dragons. Before I joined in winter of 2008, I mentioned to Jackie that I was looking to try "something new" from what I've been doing and she convinced me to come out. I think of how it was only 4-years ago when I sat in [Coach] Emily's boat, surrounded on a cold, foggy morning by the likes of vets Caesar, Wade, Denise, Pearl, and Joe and thought to myself, "how the heck are they making it look so effin' easy!? Its probably those swanky carbon fiber paddles." In no time at all I burned out my forearms from over-gripping my paddle as I struggled to keep up in the set. By the end of practice I had pulled out in silent whimpers and ended up a defeated passenger--straight-up dead weight!

Why continue doing this you ask, when I was obviously in over my head? Simply put, its the people. The people within this team along with my hard-headed compulsion to "get it down" kept me coming back. What's funny in thinking about where I was then compared to now is that while my stroke has improved somewhat and I am now involved in coaching this group of people, the people--some who've gone, some who are newer--are still the ones who keep me coming back! 

The fact that our team has grown to what it is today is the result of all the effort from people (past and present) who have poured their continual spirit and hearts into this team. This team isn't a finished product today just as it wasn't then.  Its a team that is constantly evolving because people come back. Moral of the story is that I'm glad I kept coming back. For those of you starting off this 2012 season whether as a 1st year newbie, 2nd year paddler, or straight-up vet, I'll say this--keep coming back, we've got great things coming up this season and it'll be worth it!
Brian
I remember my first practice back in 2006. It was early and I remember thinking "why am I here again?" I borrowed a PFD from the shed and grabbed this yellow 20 lb. wet log that resembled a paddle. We pushed off the beach and took off.  Only a few hundred meters into the warm up the burn already started creeping through my back and shoulders and we hadn't even made it to the bridge yet. We started the actual practice running endurance sets and some power sets, I don’t think I said one word from then on. I routinely pulled out after about a minute or two and at the end, maybe the last 10 mins, I was just along for the ride. When we finally got to the beach I was spent, I rinsed off then proceeded to my bag and sat on my towel. I had a glazed look on my face and Ceez asked me “you alright” I nodded not being able to muster many words. I got served a big piece of humble pie without any whipped cream, it was dry and didn’t taste good. 

The next morning my butt was sore, my lower back was pretty much useless, and my shoulders felt like I was hit by a bat. I ran into Ceez at work, and he said “well what did you think?” I told him it wasn’t that bad, and I felt fine but something tells me he didn’t believe me as he laughed quite maliciously. Next Saturday morning rolled around and it was decision time: either get up and go endure another painful practice or admit that something was too tough, get back in the warm covers of my comfortable bed, and go back to sleep. I don’t know if I’m just glutton for punishment, or something isn’t quite right upstairs, probably a little of both. Well I got up and went, and wouldn’t you know it, it wasn’t as bad and was maybe even a little fun. For me it was the challenge and friendship keeps you coming back for more. As you travel with the team you become stronger as a boat and as a family. Wins, losses, laughs, seeing things that can’t be repeated, only makes it worth it. All that time and energy you exert into the sport pays you back with bonds and experiences unequaled through other means. It’s an adrenaline rush, sometime a disappointment, good times and bad, but through it all I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s certainly not for everyone, it takes a good amount of commitment. To find out if you’re willing to endure that commitment, I would say to any newbie, give it 3 practices, force yourself to come to 3 consecutive practices. At the end of that time you’ll know whether you want to come back or not, and it’s OK either way, just give it a real shot, and don’t be discouraged from one practice. Your first practice is the worst, it will only get better from there. Lastly be lucky we don’t have the waterlogged old yellow paddles anymore, it’s much easier to pull the nicer grey owls the team provides now. See you on the water to kick your ass! MWAHAHAHAHA!
Galen
Hah! I remember my first practice like it was yesterday. It was the weekend before tempe. We only had 1 boat and barely one at that time. The team barely had any time to teach me any basic commands or technique. Basically it was "just follow the guy as far front and across from you". Then the team went into race sets. 

It was an interesting practice of race starts and race pieces filled with powers and warps. What are warps you ask? Just imagine our "ups" at like 4x the speed. Yeah...that was a little hard to follow. After that, I wasn't sure if I was going to come back. I'm glad I did (and not just because if I didn't I probably wouldn't have seen any girls in my day to day life - aside from my mom.) 

Today, dragon boating has become an integral part of my lifestyle. My workouts have a sense of purpose. Work is now a vehicle which I use to fund my tournament and auction bidding habit. Meeting new people inevitably ends up with me groping them, and declaring "you sure can paddle!" Hmm...maybe that's not so smart. I should change things up - time to re-implement warps!
Robert
I started in the Space Dragon Middle Ages in the Winter of 2006, when we had only one mixed boat and we mixed with other teams for genders in away races. I made my move in November, which was off season, though I had no concept of what that meant.  The then 2-hour practices were long, cold, wet, painful and soggy in my cotton tees and sweat pants. You see I had no winter sport wear, so I wore short sleeve tees in the Winter, adorned with those lovely ICEA blue/yellow and polka-dot O_O pfd’s.

I only say painful because let’s face it, the burn in your butt (no butt pad), back, obliques and pumped up arms due to newbie form can be excruciating, but more importantly life affirming. YOU KNOW YOU ARE ALIVE with each stroke.

In time, with practice, coaching, proper gear, the annoyances go away or at least fade to normal, and all that is left is you, the paddle and the water. I think the event that really hooked me was my 1st race, months before my 1st tournament in Tempe, was that morning where we mixed paddlers from all the teams on the beach and formed 2-boat relay teams to race around the island, where each boat paddles ½ way around non-stop! That seemed all but impossible to me.  The butterflies were dog-fighting in my tummy. I thought for sure I would die, like a kid jumping off the roof of his home for the 1st time. Big Billy Loa was in my boat, along with a bunch of strangers. IT WAS AWESOME! We took the lead in our leg and were 1st to the ½ way mark and although the 2nd boat dropped the ball ;), the 1st half, my leg, my race, I was hooked.

I have paddled in some 30 tournaments in the 5 seasons since that day, and still, before each race, I need to calm the butterflies, especially that very 1st race.
Esmer
It all started when my ever-so-strong, yet younger sister Arlene (also a veteran of this sport) had invited me to watch and cheer her and the SD team at the Big Long Beach tournament in July of 2009.  I finally showed up with the family in the early afternoon just in time to watch one of her many races.  As I sat and cheered, I thought to myself... "heck, I could do something like this too." My daughter also suggested that perhaps they too could use me on their boats.  It definitely looked hella fun!  Sure enough, the following weeks.... 'Lo and behold, I show up for my first practice, not knowing what the heck to do.  I've paddled before on an outrigger, but nothing like this.  These guys are sprinters!  I love the fact that it's an all around workout and has it's health benefits, no doubt, but the camaraderie and feel of the teammates was great.  Everyone here is very friendly and welcoming.  Practices will always be a great workout.  

It's what you as an individual put into your workout that make a difference in running a great race. In this sport... even a mere fraction of a second counts.  However, we try not to focus on the medals, but the journey we take to get there.  Ever since then, I continue to look forward in paddling side by side with anyone of our teammates, especially being a part of one of the most competitive and intense teams on the beach.  My advice to newbies out there, is to keep coming out to paddle and workout hard on and off the water.  You'll catch on and be a strong paddler sooner than you know it.  The coaches and captains are all here to help.  So whether it be on the bow or the bench, as a new coach for 2012, I'll try my best to teach, support, listen and learn from every one of my teammates.   In the belly of the fierce dragon boat, we are all students of this sport.  Paddle hard my friends... we got work to do!

Gunnels Set!
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So whether you're newbie to the beach and checkin' out the SD sea of blue, an out-of-towner looking for a paddle, or a long-time Space Dragon--don't hesitate to look for these friendly faces before or after push-off, they're there for YOU!

Love the game for the pure joy of accomplishment.  
Love the game for everything it can  
teach you about yourself. 
Love the game for the feeling of belonging to a  
group endeavoring to do its best.  
Love the game for being involved in a team whose members can't 
wait to see you do your best. 
Love the game for the challenge of working harder that you ever 
have at something and then harder than that.  
Love the game because it takes all team members to give it life.  
Love the game because at its best, the game tradition  
will include your contributions.  
Love the game because you belong to a long line of fine 
athletes who have loved it. It is now your legacy. 
Love the game so much that you will pass on your love of the 
game to another athlete who has seen your dedication,  
your work, your challenges, your triumphs...  
and then that athlete will, because of you,  
love the game. 
---Unknown