Two years ago, after my canoe trek in the wilds of British Columbia, I realized something about myself that has become something of a mantra to me in the meantime:
I like to do hard things
And this is what I was repeating in my mind last night as I sat alone at home listening to porting rain and thunder and wondering if it was worth keeping the commitment I’d made to race in my one-person canoe this morning. Because, for all the many hours that I’ve spent out on the water on my canoe, I’ve never actually raced on it. And so I when I registered for the “Off Da Couch” race a few weeks ago, I was actually on half-sure that I would follow through. Not only is racing hard work, but it’s so different than setting out for a solo Lido loop where I can go at my own pace and avoid everyone else. Racing puts you into a pack of boats and you need to be aggressive (i.e. hold your line even when others are around you) rather than go the long way around anyone else. I’m not particularly good at being aggressive and I loathe when others cut in front of me and put me at risk of capsizing. And of course deep down I was wondering if I had the courage to deal with the fact that I could possibly be DFL if I were to race…
But I did it.
I wasn’t last place and I did cut someone else off around a turn but it wasn’t intentional (I apologized even as he cursed me). I came in 3rd in my division (Masters) and smack-dab in the middle of the pack of racers. Perhaps my brightest moment during the race was in the last third where everyone else was obviously tired out, but I got my second wind. I was right between two other women on canoes and I realized that being the middle I was going to get sandwiched and I considered putting my paddle into the water to stop my boat from being squeezed and let them go ahead. But instead I turned on my power, paddled super-hard for about 45 seconds and zoomed between and past both of them. That felt pretty good.
But besides the logistics of the race itself, there’s one more part of this story I need to tell. Eight years ago I bought my one-man canoe with a little bit of money that I inherited from my grandmother. The canoe was used, but sturdy and lightweight, and I knew when I saw her that she was just perfect for me. However, it was an OC-1 canoe, which was steered with foot pedals. I knew I couldn’t steer it with the pegleg I wear on my right side in the water, so I brought my boat to Sam Couch who had a repair shop at the Newport Aquatic Center (NAC), and asked him for some help in modifying it to meet my needs. We talked through a few strategies for re-routing the steering and he made a few other fixes (including a rudder upgrade) to the boat so it would suit me well. In the years since it’s been perfect for me and all my miles of solo paddling, and of course I’ve never forgotten Sam’s helpfulness and creativity in making my boat work just right for me. So it was a privilege to paddle in today’s race, which was named in his honor for all of his contributions to the NAC and the outrigger community over the years. Paddling has been my primary physical outlet through so many hard times and I am so very fortunate to have a vibrant community (NAC, ImuaOCC, OffshoreOCC, SCORA, etc) to support me.*
*hats off to my Offshore teammates Mark and Bob who helped with transporting my boat to the race, too!