We are half way through the regatta schedule; I continue to be amazed. It’s a roiling cascading kaleidescope of events and a tempest of emotions.
Chris, my paddle caddy, advisor, sports mentor and coach/psychologist is monitoring my vital signs minute by minute. He in turn is buzzed up on espresso’s costing only a Euro – apparently a bargain compared to Switzerland.
I knew I was joining an elite team when I managed to secure a spot on the False Creek Senior C team. The majority of this group, men and women, are dedicated paddlers, they have been involved for years if not decades, for me, my paddling life is still measured in months.
They are as passionate about their sport as they are about life; diligent, disciplined, driven towards excellence. I have marveled at their commitment, their spirit and focus. They are showing all these winning traits, yet they have managed to be graceful, humorous, thoughtful and generous of spirit. Someone once told me to stick with the winners and I have pulled the lucky lotto ticket for that prize, I have found two teams of winners.
Winner is a broader concept here, a more enduring one. Jackie, our Senior B coach, was asked one day, during another hurry-up-and-wait point, for one of her favorite inspirational quotes. I recognized it immediately but from another context, my earlier life in politics.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I got my first taste of being in the arena yesterday and, although my face was not marred by ‘dust,sweat and blood’. It felt exhilarating, even if we did not win that heat.
The people I admire most in life are the winners, the ones willing to get into the ring. They may not always win, but they are in the ring. My friend Peter has been getting me involved in uncomfortable situations for many years now. In fact he has given me a great Laurel and Hardy quote (look them up, youngsters; comedy started with them). Every time I see Peter I get to say: “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” I say it with great respect and affection – this is about the best mess I’ve in for a long time.
And it isn’t just the age groupers who are winners. There is a Vancouver team called Eye of the Dragon, consisting of a number of vision challenged paddlers and their seat mates. They made the podium yesterday, it was pandemonium. Two of our Senior C team, Gary and Nod, have been with them for years. There must have been a bit of grit in the air, I caught some in my eye for a few minutes.
I am on a steep learning curve through all this, in truth, I know am not ready. But I am here and I am honored to be amongst those who are willing to step into the arena of life and face it with such courage, curiosity and collegiality.
Kamini reminded us today before we went out for a race of the importance of community, of the bonds we had forged and formed, of the sacrifices we had made and of the privilege bestowed on us from such an experience. We are willing to be judged in the harsh light of a competition where winning is by tenths of a second and must be confirmed by a photo finish because the essence of the experience is that we have climbed into the arena together.
It is indeed another fine mess…