The jaunty lyrics of the childhood song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" would lead one to believe that the action of moving a boat through water is squarely in the fun category. But after just one practice, I understand that competitive rowing is more in the workout category. And we all know how dang merry it is to work out.
My husband asked me if I'd like to join his company's dragon boat team because they needed another female paddler. I've seen dragon boats in action before — long, graceful, flat-bottomed vessels cutting smoothly through the water with 10 elegantly synchronized athletes on each side, someone steering in the back and a drummer up front to beat out the pace. He explained how we'd practice once a week on Tuesday nights — a team of men and women — in preparation for the Baltimore Dragon Boat Challenge 2010 on June 19 at the Inner Harbor.
I think that whenever anyone asks me to do something that I have never done before — something that is challenging and perhaps even frightening — my first impulse is to say "yes." Because I think that whenever you get that jittery feeling in the pit of your gut, you're really living. Naturally, I signed right up.
And I must say that today, after my first practice, I'm really living! I'm really living with a jittery feeling in my shoulders, upper arms and lower back.
My first clue that the sport was serious was when I got an e-mail from the boat's captain to the entire team, asking us for our individual weights. And by this she meant my actual weight, not my driver's license weight. Apparently, the boat has to be balanced on each side. So you just can't say you weigh about 105 pounds and then step into the boat, take your bench seat and have the boat visibly listing to your side. I took one for the team and entered my real weight, careful not to hit "reply to all."
The next evening, my husband and I drove to Tide Point Marina to warm up and get a little orientation on the commands used to instruct the paddlers to start and stop the boat.
We all gathered and did some calisthenics and stretches, and you could tell everyone was anxious to get into the boat. Almost as anxious as we would be to get out of it an hour and half later.
Once on the water, the coach led us in a series of drills of increasing intensity. But here is the thing about being part of a dragon boat team: Everyone works to his or her physical or mental edge, because no one wants to be a slacker. Even more motivating, no one wants to be dumped into the Inner Harbor, which is a real possibility.
At the end of our practice, we paddled back to the dock and did a few more stretches to assess just how completely worn out we were. Then it was time to race home to the showers to wash off any Inner Harbor water demons. And to fall into bed, exhausted, the faint strains of a revised childhood ditty playing out in our heads: "Row, row the dragon boat / Dig your paddles in / Faster! Faster! Faster! Faster! / Maybe we can win."