Wow, what a long, exhausting, emotional, and amazing weekend. The short story is that both Ma-Yi teams did great and far exceeded expectations not only by us, but by our competitors. If you’re intersted in the details, read on….
THE NIGHT BEFORE
The entire team met for dinner in Little Italy to load up on carbs before the big weekend. It was great to see everyone dressed up in everyday clothes. We’re all used to seeing each other in shorts and tank tops drenched in disgusting jet fueled lake water. Now everyone was smelling clean and looking lean! It was sports prom. Gag gifts were given out to everyone, which consisted of t-shirts with funny slogans to match everyone’s personality. We all had to guess which t-shirt belonged to who. Zeke, our land trainer got one that said “Built Ford Tough” because, well, he’s built like a brick shithouse. One of the younger girls on the team got one that said “No whining please.” Which everyone guessed right away. My t-shirt said “Chillin with my peeps” and had a drawing of little chicks on it. Hmm… I guess compared to everyone else on the team, I’m the most laid back person. The personalities on our team would definitely make for a compelling sociological study, but they all have great hearts and I could start to feel the team bond.
I arrived about 6:45 am Sat morning at Flushing Meadows lake and found the Ma-Yi tent bustling with activity. Just the night before we were all loading up on carbs in Little Italy and now we were in uniforms nibbling on fruits and veggies. For 30 out of the 36 team members for Ma-Yi, we would be racing for the first time in our lives. The red team (my team) had the first race of the day for Ma-Yi. It was completely surreal to be lining up against other teams at the same boathouse where we practiced every saturday morning for the last two and a half months. Now we were in a real race, with real numbers and uniforms and corporate sponsors. The lake was completely transformed with several rows of 40 ft long tents, barbeques, picnic tables, and balloon arches swaying in the wind. The same sensation could be felt in my belly as the butterflies were definitely swirling. One thing I noticed is how well organized the festival seemed to be and the sheer number of people involved in making all of this happen. We even had color coded bracelets (which reminded me of state fairs) we had to wear to be allowed into the staging area of the race.
We loaded onto the boats and paddled out to the starting line. It was nerve racking just lining up the boats since this action calls for great finesse from the entire team, but especially our steer person. The water at 9am was calm and cool, unlike our nerves. Weeks ago I remember thinking to myself “Please let us do better than last place. Anything but that.” But now, I wanted to win. Seeing all the other teams there really drives up your competitive spirit. I don’t think any amount of training, off season or on, can prepare a rookie for a moment quite like this. There is a lot of hurry up and wait in this sport.
So, while we’re waiting at the starting line, here’s a little info on the structure and program: The boat is about about 38 ft in length, and 3.5 feet in width at it’s widest. There are typically three sections. The front are called the pacers. They are responsible for pacing the rest of the team. Our job is to stay synchronized with them. The middle section is the engine room, and they provide constant power for the boat. The rear section is called the rockets (I’m in this section). The rockets are supposed to provide thrust. All sections are supposed to stay in sync at all times, otherwise the boat slows down as drag is created. We are also taught to lean out to the side as much as we can. This action lifts the boat out of the water, thus making it lighter and faster. At the front of the boat is the drummer. This person is responsible for keeping a consistent rhythm, and dictating our race program as they see fit, depending on where we are in relation to the other teams. Our steer person is responsible for keeping us straight and inside our own lane – which is a very had thing to do when you are fighting currents and wind.
Enough waiting. Finally, the horn (which sounded like a sick elephant) goes off, and we go into our starting program. Our team typically has bad starts but great finishes, versus the black team which is the exact opposite. This race was no different as the other boats were aleady pulling ahead of us. 250 meters doesn’t last very long at all, but the entire time you are in the race, your muscles are hurting, your heart feels like it’s about ready to explode, there is water rushing in and out of the boat. Everything is fast fast fast. Some boats were still ahead of us as we came into our last 50 meters, and then something happened. We started to gain on them, and our little dragon head started to push forward as our drummer was screaming at us to stroke and dig deep into the water. And then it was over. We didn’t know how we did, as the race was amazingly close. I thought we had won by a hair but I wasn’t sure. As we paddled our way back to the launching area, we went by the black team standing on the shore of the lake. They were screaming and jumping up and down. And that told us everything. We won our qualifying event! We are no longer the bad news bears. We became competitors.
The black team, pumped up from our win, went into their 250m advanced mixed open race and did great, but were dissapointed with a second place finish.
For the 250m finals for the Red Team, we ended up taking 3rd place. On our way back to the launching area, we learned that one of the boats had swerved into another lane during the race. Instead of disqualifying that boat, we were forced to redo the race. Everyone was exhausted but were excited to possibly do better the second time around. Well, we actaully did worse. That race was a lesson in endurance. It would be easy to say we were too tired to race again so soon after, but the other teams were just as tired as we were. In the end, I believe it comes down to strategy and ENDURANCE. This explains why we condition so intensely on Tuesdays.
At the end of the day, we were given a pep talk and Zeke reminded us that we were all rookies, with the exception for 6 people, but today we were competitive and we paddled like an experienced team.
After yesterday’s results, both teams were determined to push themselves harder than ever.
The red team’s first race was the 250m mixed open. Cathay Bank was our sponsor for that. We ran into a little trouble lining up our boat at the starting line, with our bouy facing right in front of our boat. We had to stop the starting judge so we could adjust. She was not very happy with us. One the race finally began, we started off a little shaky but quickly recovered and caught up to the other boats. We end up taking 2nd place. Our next race was a media invitation with Time Warner being our sponsor. We took 3rd place and both our races were up against some advanced teams. Overall, we improved our time and ended up placing 3rd out of 24 teams. Not bad for a rookie team.
The real excitement of the day started wth the black team finishing 1st in their 250m trial. We went crazy as they won by a good 4-5 feet ahead. We were all cheering and jumping up and down as they paddled by us on their way back to the launching area.
As a sidenote: I think the best feeling is finishing the race and paddling along the shore while your teammates cheer you on, regardless of how well you do, It’s great to have that kind of support and rarely have I seen that kind of cameraderie amongst a team.
was little time for celebration for the black team as they got ready for the 250m final in the advanced mixed open. It was a tight race with the black team looking great. Both teams are consistent in having a lot of power to move the boat in the last leg of the race. The race was too close to call so the officials had to look at the camera to determine the winners. As the announcer read off the results, starting with 6th place (of course), there was so much suspense. We knew we either won or finished 2nd. When the 2nd runner up was announced, and it WASN’T Ma-Yi, the crowd went crazy! This was such a monumental event for Ma-Yi considering they sank their boat their first year. When the black team came back, we all went crazy hugging and screaming and hugging some more. People were crying (I’m tearing up right now actually) and cameras were flashing and people were videotaping. It was an unforgettable moment. I gave Suzzette a hug (our team manager) and she said to me ”this is why you join the dragon boat team.”
We finshed the day strong and both teams came together as one. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it is true. When one team won, we all felt like winners, and when one team lost, we all felt the hurt, anger, and dissappointment from that loss.
It was a beautiful weekend with amazing weather. There was about 10,000 people in attendance and all of them now know who Ma-Yi is and we are here to stay. Consequently, I think I am hooked, and I can’t wait to get back in the water. Enjoy the photos. I hope they capture the excitement of the weekend.