It gets quiet on the water.
Waiting while the sun beats down, watching the previous race churn down the lanes, subconsciously counting their start in your head.
Before you know it, you’re paddling to the start line, your teammates are patting you on the back or shoulder, words of confidence and encouragement floating back and forth.
While the steersperson straightens the boat, the pacers uphold tradition and splash the dragon.
The boat next to you takes a little longer to straighten their boat; you and your teammates are in hold position, waiting.
You sit quietly for a moment, trying to calm your nerves, slow the heartbeat.
Then you look up at your drummer and she looks back and grins.
Standby! Are you ready!
You lean forward, paddle poised and ready as all of your coach’s mantras flip through your head: don’t look on the blade anymore; you don’t need to see, you need to feeeel.
All the paddlers collectively inhale.
There’s only a fraction of a second to contemplate the lack of noise before the horn goes off. Somewhere at the back of your mind, your brain registers that the horn is important and you must do something – but your body is already moving. Hours of practice move your muscles, focusing the strength on the blade, everyone moving together. The boat surges with each stroke.
Halfway and inevitably, the thoughts appear in your head:
It’s so hot
I’m so tired
The finish line is still so far…
Are we there yet???
Banishing them by putting more power on the blade and yelling encouragement to your teammates, a previously agreed “TWIST!!” escapes your lips and gains followers down the boat.
Close to the second last buoy your steersperson calls the charge.
When you thought you had no energy left, nothing more to give, you rise to the call.
The boat surges as your teammates do the same, your drummer is going nuts on the drum and yelling encouragement. The pace picks up, but the finish line seems to be approaching too slowly.
Within your periphery, boats on either side surge with their charges; the combination of camaraderie and a desire to win overcomes exhaustion.
Almost there! Keep going! Longerrrrr! Everything!!!
That’s what you are giving – everything.
Then it’s all over.
In less than three minutes.
You glance left. Glance right. And start to cheer – you won your race. And it was all sooooooooooooo worth it.