Paddles Up

“When it comes to a decision between letting it run and doing a power 30, I hope you’ll choose to empty the tank.” 

Yes, that is the spirit of dragon boat team that I am so lucky to be a part of.

When I first heard about Cornell Dragon Boat Club and decided to join its first practice this semester about three months ago, I never imagined how much a difference this experience could make—it gave me something I have been craving forever and turned out to be one of the most indelible experiences in my college life so far. 

I had no expectation in mind except to try something new and different when I first set foot on our fleet, escaping the campus to the vast Cayuga Lake when the summer was still in full bloom. I didn’t know that flip-flops are considered the most formal footwear in dragon boat, the esoteric cottage by the lake was where all our weapons including paddles, life jackets, and butt pads were concealed, and the twenty people I first met would become some of my best buddies and comrades after two weeks. 

Although I am quite an athletic  person, the sports I have engaged in are mostly individual sports – like swimming, track and field, and tennis – therefore I have always wanted to join a team sport where I could share my passion with other like-minded people and get the most out of sportsmanship. Dragon boat came right in time. 

However, it wasn’t easy from the very beginning. 

Since I’ve never had much muscular training in the arms, I was bothered by the ache from my muscles from the very first practice. The training began in full swing: sprint of various distances, macho drill, on/off drill, odd/even drill, incorporated with elements of interval, endurance, and power training–all came at once. It was apparently too much for the first time.  But when I made up my mind to keep up with the pace and momentum, I found myself breathing the deepest and loudest I could to rival the huge waves of fatigue, firmly fixing my eyes on the heavily rotating paddle in the hands of the person right in front of me, and tightening every single muscle in my upper body to propel the boat. 

As the boat proceeded much faster and smoother, I sensed the euphoria from conquering the water, fighting against the natural law, and releasing the piles of pressure. I embraced the spray of water coming from the paddles four seats in front of me, sensed the momentum and strength from my seat partner to my left, and burned out my energy when fighting the macho drill (two people from the same row power up the whole boat). By the time the practice was over, I was overwhelmed by an unprecedented sense of freedom and release. 

My nerves and muscles were completely activated when I came onshore, and I felt like someone else, both mentally and physically. Everyone high-fived and encouraged each other and it was at that moment that I realize – I fell in love with dragon boating!  

Committing myself to the dragon boat team means getting up at 7:30 in a Saturday morning, driving down to Cayuga Lake three times a week, and working out almost 10 hours a week in total. I witnessed the speedy growth of muscles to the extent that I could even distinguish the differences of the size of muscles in my arms. 

But I enjoyed myself and enjoyed every minute I spent with my teammate to build a stronger team for the annual Fall Dragon Boat festival in Princeton, Mercer. By the time we set off to Princeton we were already a dynamic and united team. 

As the first Cornell Dragon Boat team ever to compete outside of Ithaca and the only collegiate team at the competition, we were not on par with other teams. We had only practiced together for three weeks but were competing with the best team from the Northeast and veteran teams with years of history and dozens of medals from all over the country.

As young and inexperienced as we are, “intrepidness” was in our name! 

That is why every one of us gave our best efforts during every race, blocked the pain and all the distractions, and managed to keep up with the stroke rate of stroke seat. A remarkable performance proved the incredible power of twenty people in perfect sync and witnessed the fearless youths of twenty college kids.

As our captain remarked, the race wasn’t about our time or how well we’d placed, but about setting a precedent and a milestone in Cornell Dragon Boat’s history. 

This is truly not the end of the story, but a stepping-stone to something more phenomenal. For me, dragon boat is not only a place to muster up energy and unleash it upon the world, but also a place to call home. 


Sichun Liu

Sichun Liu

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