The temperature in Vancouver last weekend hovered around zero, windchill on False Creek took it below zero. It snowed all weekend; abnormal weather for the lower mainland. No one expects sympathy from the rest of Canada, locked in their deep freeze; it does present challenges, we plan outdoor activities not expecting weather to be a problem.
Some 60 men and women, all over 60, signed up for a ‘clinic’ on False Creek in Vancouver. We are there for the first of many clinics to try to gain a spot on a team going to an International Dragon Boat festival In Ravenna, Italy this September.
I marvel at the human spirit. This is a tough challenge we are taking on and the weather magnifies the challenge. We are in our sixties, the time for sitting by the fire and playing with grandchildren. Yet we are all here, competitive as young Olympians, planning to spend two wet and cold days out on the water competing to make an athletic team. Elderly athlete used to be an oxymoron, not now.
A few of us are newbies. I have paddled recreationally for two years, hardly earning the right to challenge for a position on such a prestigious team. I am ‘long-shot Bob’ but game for an adventure.
First and most obvious I am here. I’m off the couch and out the door. Second, in the process of trying out, I expect to learn much in a short time from the best coaches available. What’s the downside of that? Third, as long as I’m a contender, I am motivated; I’ll go to the clinics, show up at extra paddling sessions, work harder at my skills and technique and hit the gym a few more times than usual. I’m still in the win column.
Finally, I am with winners. Many of us are from my club, the EH team (A team -get it – eh?) are here including three other men, Peter, Wayne and Marvin, men that I admire and respect. All of us are living life – trying something new, learning, striving, doing. Everyone is fit and committed to staying that way.
Ravenna is quite the prize, full of history and architecture. Even as I approach my soixante-cinq (it sounds better in French), I am excited about being on a serious team competing for serious medals. The bragging rights alone are worth some pain. The location is doubly enticing – Ravenna, Italy is a gem. I have already booked my flight; I am going to Italy this fall regardless of whether I make the team. The possibility of making the team, all bright and shiny, energizes me. New possibilities pop up. I have already booked a week of hiking with some friends, I may entice others to join me in Rome, and – well you get the picture. Even if I don’t make the team, this is a win-win.
Last weekend was a challenge; notwithstanding the weather. We trained hard. We were out on the water learning new techniques. I find that the seemingly simple process of paddling is quite complex. Maximizing the power of my paddle stroke is a combination of proper technique, power and synchronization; in an excruciating race that lasts a few minutes, there is little room for error. It’s a puzzle that will challenge me.
I am surrounded all weekend by fit, active people my age who take their health and their exercise seriously. We have a few aches and pains but we accommodate them, we develop workarounds. We are still listening and learning; respectful of coaches years younger, still trying to do things better.
The weekend taught me how much I don’t know. My videotaped image was markedly different from my self image and wildly different from the ideal. It is humbling; I know that humble pie is best while eaten hot, so I choke it down. I know what I have to do.
My respect for everyone is higher than ever. I end the weekend with a healthier view of my chances; I am still ‘long-shot Bob’, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I have nothing to lose, everything to gain and I am doing it all in the company of people I admire and respect.
What better way to spend a cold wet weekend in February, what better goal could I have, what better company to share an experience?