Earlier this month, the members of the NYUAD Dragon Boat team rose from their beds, heavy from the previous night's carb-bombs at the University's first pep rally, anticipating the championship race that lay ahead. Coach Mike had asked us to load up on carbohydrates for three days before the race, and we did not disappoint him.
NYUAD came in first during the preliminary round, beating the runner-up Herriot-Watt 2 team by only 0.2 seconds. A close call, but we made it. We were finalists!
After the exhausting 1.04.9 seconds of the preliminary round, one of the paddlers confessed: "The most difficult part is stopping. There is no definite line on the water to know when we have completed the 200 meters and I couldn't hear Coach Mike clearly. I never know when to put my paddle down. I feel like a maniac paddling on and on."
The championship race was at 4pm. With a few hours to spare, the team exhausted its resources of sugar and protein, drinking Gatorade and eating banana after banana to stay energized for the final race. Some team members even went as far as buying a 'Muscle Builder' protein shake from the local smoothie shop.
After four long hours of waiting, the moment we had been training for was finally approaching. The race would decide whether NYUAD's Dragon Boat team of 2012 would live up to the expectations raised by the 2011 paddlers. Could NYUAD win the championship?
At 3:30pm Coach Mike called the team together for a pep talk. Huddled in a circle with our hands together in the middle, he said, "This is what we have been training for, NYUAD. It's only one minute. You bear the pain of it and then you enjoy the result for the rest of your life." Then, unexpectedly, as always, he hollered, "Are you ready?" Our adrenaline level skyrocketing, we hollered back, "Ready!" And we were.
Just 30 minutes later, we were on the water, once again approaching the starting line. The same starting line, but with much more at stake. Again, four other teams were competing for the glittering trophy that awaited us at the finish line. Two Herriot-Watt teams, Team WI Sharks, and the Mourjan Monster Dragons sat in their boats, their eyes fixed on the prize, like ours. We waited patiently until Coach Mike's familiar "Go!" And we paddled like we had never paddled before.
We paddled hard through the 200 meters again. Done. The race was over, but because we had our heads in the game and dared not look outside the boat, no one knew where we placed. After a painfully slow journey over to the docking area, still not knowing if we won, we left the boats with paddles in hand and made our way to our camp to await the results.
We didn't have to wait long before the announcement was made. Coming in first, the NYUAD team won the championship and went home with a personal team record of 59.4 seconds.
We were ready. We felt we could show them what we've got. And indeed we did.
By 8:30am on race day, the residential building of the students was filled with purple and white. Our team lingered, proudly boasting our Dragon Boat uniforms, not minding to answer strangers' inquiries about our destination and purpose: "We are heading to the annual Dubai Dragon Boat Festival."
After a two-session try-out and elimination process in February, John Michael On, NYUAD's Dragon Boat team coach, selected 24 students to represent the University at the upcoming Dubai Dragon Boat Festival (DDBF). Training began soon after, with weekly two-hour-long 'on-water' trainings by the marina at the Abu Dhabi Yacht and Sailing Club, where we transformed our 48 arms into "one synchronized rowing machine," as Coach Mike would say. But in case our back and arms weren't sore enough, the combined efforts of kettle bells and Coach Mike at the team's weekly gym sessions did the trick.
By the time race day rolled around, we had accomplished six painfully long 'on-water' trainings and six powerfully short gym sessions. We were ready. We felt we could show them what we've got. And indeed we did.
The Dubai tournament began with a preliminary round, which determined the finalists for the championship race. In the University category, the preliminary round hosted five institutions, and, at 11am, their boats began to line up in the marina. Next to each other, ready to break the water, floated teams from the University of Dubai, Herriot-Watt University (which had two teams), and Middlesex University. NYUAD was in lane three, caught right in the middle. But we did not look outside our own boat. We focused on Coach Mike. Only his voice was our command. The other teams would distract us; their counting might throw off our paddling. The focus had to be in our boat.
We drifted slowly to the starting line. "Focus! Focus!" Coach Mike shouted from the back of the boat. We tightened our grip on our paddle handles. "Paddles up!" We raised our paddles, ready to break the water. The tension was unbearable. When the judge finally blew the horn, Coach Mike yelled, "Go!" And we started paddling furiously.
For some, 200 meters may seem like a short distance, but it's an eternity on water. "Every stroke during a race should be like your last one," Coach Mike would say. Indeed, in dragon boating, if any one of the paddlers misses a beat, the team's entire rhythm will be thrown off. But synchrony was ensured with each paddler keeping pace with the team member in front of them, and with sophomore Supatra Lee and freshman Darya Soroko pacing us, we were in very good hands.