At the age of 65, well past my prime for every competitive sport except maybe bocce, I am heading for an international dragon boat competition in Ravenna Italy.
My late evolving chance at glory came as a huge surprise last Monday. In early May, I had passed up a try-out camp to gain a spot for the FCRCC Senior C team, the over 60’s. ‘Long-shot Bob”, I was under-qualified, ill-equipped and woefully under-experienced and I had to face a time trial in an Outrigger canoe, an unstable boat I had never paddled – not the way to make a debut.
I chose to work on my skills in the hope of a future opportunity. I went to the Senior C coach and asked if I could practice with the team on nights where there was an empty seat in their dragon boat. I showed up at every practice for three months, most nights there was room and I got a great workout – if ya wanna be a big dog, ya hafta run with the big dogs. Some nights, the boat was full and I went home.
I finally faced my Outrigger fear and learned how to paddle. https://bobfoulkesadventures.com/2014/07/10/drowning-fear/
On my second paddle, I managed to do a huli – capsize myself – in front of the team coach. I doubt she was impressed with my technical skills; maybe I got her with my unwarranted enthusiasm.
At last Monday’s practice, coach told me I was to paddle right handed from now on and that I was to fill out the paper work to be put on the team roster. I was now officially a spare on the men’s team.
I stopped listening, too busy concentrating on not breaking into an impromptu happy dance on the spot.
I practiced that night in a zen-like state of karmic calm, absorbing, planning, half listening while trying not to throw up, fall overboard, lose my paddle in the water or do a few hundred other things that would make coach rethink her offer.
Some strange mix of fear and euphoria took hold of me. Jeez – what now?
Wait, there’s more.
After practice, I checked in with the team manager to make sure I was on the team; yup, we sorted out the paperwork. I walked off the dock and up the ramp, my mind buzzing with wonderment at life’s little surprises. My happy dance was threatening to burst out at any moment; I had to keep it inside until at least the parking lot.
At the top of the ramp, Peter, my dragon boating mentor, caught me. “Are you interested in paddling with the Senior B team – the over 50’s, the youngsters?”
It seems the Senior B team was short a few good men for its mixed team. “Absolutely!” was my instantaneous answer. We met the coach and sealed the deal. I was now on a second team, courtesy of my Y chromosome, a pulse, a paddle and the lack of any competition. The gods do have a sense of humor; they smiled upon me twice that night.
It’s now sinking in. I’m running with the big dogs – six times a week. It hurts. The practices are tough and I need to concentrate every time my paddle hits the water. A 90 minute practice takes everything I have and asks for more. I have four women coaches…
I nap in the afternoons, not a luxury but a necessity. My modest weight loss, exercise, muscle-building workout regime is now amped up and serious; for six weeks, my life is not my own. We are representing our club at an international meet – Ravenna 2014 – with more than 20 countries and 4500 athletes. This is serious.
I got a note from the team this week. The note outlined the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) list of banned substances; pointing out that this regatta was sanctioned by WADA and all athletes would be subject to random testing.
WOW! For the first time in my life, someone thinks my athletic performance is so crucial to competition that I’m subject to performance enhancing drug testing. Somehow, the test has gone from just finishing to finishing first.
WOW! I haven’t got a clue what all these banned substances are but I am giving up my morning baby aspirin just in case – that’s it, I’m going clean. There’s no room for Lance Armstrong on our team.
I also know that boy-athlete dreams come at a cost. I pay for the flight, I pay for the hotel, I pay for the team fees, I pay for the new paddle, I pay for the team jersey, I buy the ticket for the opening ceremonies.
I’m doing a little boy happy dance – I’m on the Team! No, I’m on two Teams!
I know this giddiness will have to sustain me through tough practises, daily fatigue and some serious pain. I know it is expensive. I know I am giving up the rest of my summer for two minutes of intense effort sometime in September.
It is a small price to pay for the chance to be a member of the Westcoast Dragons and the FCRCC Senior C’s at the 9th IDBF Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna this September. It is a late bloomer’s unexpected grab for sports glory of a sort, sweeter for the unexpected opportunity of it all. Fairy tales that come true are better at this age.