This article is part of the CCA Previews for 2016.
By Canoeing EXCO’16
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
– A League of Their Own
It’s the ache that you feel in every part of your body after a killer Saturday morning training. It’s the four minute walk from the shed to the pontoon, a C boat on your shoulder, a K boat in your hand. It’s the feeling of flying down the lanes, the pull of your paddle against heavy water, the wind pushing you forward. It’s watching the sunset along the horizon of the reservoir, and the 3pm sun carefully dusting hints of glitter against clear waters.
It’s the hard that makes it great.
Any canoeist will tell you that this is definitely not an easy sport – canoeing requires dedication, motivation, courage, perseverance and passion. Canoeing may be a sport known for building muscles, but the truth is that it builds much more than that. At each training you are not just training your body – you are training your mind. Each time trial, each trail run, each set of slope sprints and each gym circuit pushes you to your limits and prepares you for the next training’s challenges.
But you are not alone. The thing about canoeing is that it may be an individual race, but it is never an individual journey. What makes Raffles Canoeing is the team. It’s the team you give your 100% with, 25m away from the finish line in hopes of being the first boat to complete the set. It’s the team you sit on the grass patch with through every post-training debrief, shoulders and hands pressed together as you huddle for the cheer. It’s waiting out the midday storm with seven other teammates under one small umbrella as the rain pours all around. It’s the friends you spend nights talking with, the constant encouragement, the terrible jokes. It’s the voices that ring loud and clear in your head during your race, reminding you of who you are: Raffles Row. You are a part of Raffles Canoeing. A fighter, an overcomer, a member of the team.
A day in the life of a canoeist begins with finding the shortest possible route to Macritchie, taking out boats, and strapping on your life jacket. Boat on your shoulder, paddle in your hand, you make your way down to the launching pontoon. As you get into the boat, your hands grasp your paddle, and you feel around for the familiar grip, your fingers wrapping around the stiff paddle shaft. You are no stranger to the feeling of carbon composite against skin, and as your blade meets the water, your water training begins.
There are days when you feel like your body is giving out and days when the water feels heavy and the water condition is not at its best. There are also days when the weather doesn’t hold, and you arrive at the gym instead of the pontoon, ready to begin your land training program. But all these different circumstances – both good and bad – are part of the training of your heart and mind. Different circumstances force you out of your comfort zone, and it is then that the strongest friendships are forged, and where life truly begins.
You will taste courage, defeat, team spirit, perseverance and triumph all rolled into one. There is courage in the moment your hands leave the safety of the launching pontoon despite your apprehension and fears. Defeat when you capsize at the 750m mark, where it is a 250m swim to either one of the 500m or 1000m pontoons. Team spirit when you hear a familiar voice calling out your name and you turn your head to see a K2 boat paddling in your direction to rescue you. Perseverance in the moment your friends help you get back on the boat and your paddle tentatively touches the water again. Triumph when you finally pull through the lanes, your blade cutting through the water in steady frequencies, going 80-90-100-110% until you reach the finish line and a smile stretches across your lips, because you have won the set – you are the fastest boat.
As you sit on the pontoon, feet in the water, ankles slightly crossed, you watch your teammates and friends give it their all, and see the determined look on every one of their faces, fighting for the slightest chance to be great – and you feel something special. You feel it again in the small moments when you stand in a disorderly line at the pull-up bars, around the bench in the gym, watching your teammates fight for an increase in their max reps. And yet again, when you’re at the launching pontoon before your race, when each individual puts their hand on top of another, skin to skin, heart to heart, and two words echo all around: Raffles Row. It is in these little moments that you realize how much this sport and your teammates mean to you. You realize that canoeing has changed your life.
In the team, there is no mould of the person you should be, or the body you ought to have. There are loud people, quiet people, tall people, short people. There is no single body type or personality type that is more favoured by, or suited for the team. All we are is that we are brought together by a single dream, a desire to make something count for the one and a half years we spend in this CCA. We are not here by chance, but we are determined to make this chance count. This dream pushes us to go further, do better, become stronger. In the beginning, we enter as different individuals. At the end, we emerge as one team.
Raffles Canoeing may not have much to offer – it definitely isn’t one of the top schools in the sport, and the odds are stacked high against this team of seventeen-year-olds new to the world of canoeing. This is where our greatest lessons are learnt: of hard work, of overcoming our fears, of being a member of the team, and of believing.
Henry David Thoreau once said: “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.”
What if you believe?