I never really considered myself athletic. When I was really young, around 6 or 7 years old, my parents signed me up to join a youth soccer team. I never wanted to play, but I had to attend practices and games and it was a chore. I didn’t like playing soccer and I was the worst one on the team. I didn’t make any friends either. It’s hard to practice and spend time on activities for which there’s no passion. The whole experience left me feeling worthless, the opposite of what team sports should.
So I avoided sports until I reached high school. That’s when my home life started to deteriorate, I just couldn’t stand being in my house so I opted for after school activities to distract me. I first joined table tennis with a couple of friends; I never played before but I frequently attended practices so I slowly improved. I enjoyed table tennis a lot and just rallying for hours was a way to keep my mind of off my troubles. I ended up staying on the team for three years in high school and went to a couple of local championships. I didn’t ever win, but it was a great way to meet other students interested in similar hobbies.
Table tennis was just a winter sport, in the autumn I opted to join cross country. I never was a runner before, but cross country is a forgiving sport for newbies. I started by jogging slowly at my own pace. I simply told myself, “Go as slow as you want, just don’t stop.” I repeated that mantra over and over as I started running. I started off with 3km runs, then 4km, 5kms, and I think the most I ran for my sport’s team was 6km. I enjoyed cross country because practices were every day, unless there was a thunderstorm. I gave me an excuse to stay late at school and to challenge myself physically. I would also say cliché phrases like “The greater the obstacle, the greater the glory in overcoming it” and “Pain is temporary, glory is forever”. It sounds silly, but it did help keep me motivated to keep on running. So I competed in races across forested areas and small conservation areas. I never came in the top of crowd, but I sure did try to beat my personal goals each time. “Run up the hill, don’t stop for the whole race, beat 30min!” I loved every second of it.
In the spring I tried out lacrosse one year. It gave me flashbacks of little league soccer. I enjoyed catching and throwing the ball with my lacrosse stick during practices, but I hated the actual games. I never did that well, so it was a sport for only one of my high school years. I thought maybe team sports like soccer and lacrosse aren’t my jam. I’m not cut out for that sort of thing. And I slowly accepted that it’s okay. It’s okay to not be good at those sports. It’s okay to not like to play those kinds of sports. There are other options for one’s activities.
So for the other two years in high school I joined track and field. It was like cross country, but a lot more intense. I discovered that I’m a long distance runner, not a sprinter. I still pushed myself to my max every practice, I didn’t want to let myself down. We would run 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 3500m. The 3500m races were my favourite. And joining track and field definitely helped in making me a well-rounded runner. I never won any races, but I sure saw my own progress. It also assisted in the autumn when I did cross country by increasing my stamina and my speed.
After my last race of the season, of my high school career, I knew I’d always remember the days were I would run 5km after school in the sun, in clouds, and sometimes in the rain. I know without these sports my life would have been even more miserable. Sports, as well as helping with my physical health, helped with my mental and emotional health. I was able to be outdoors (for cross country and track and field), talk with my friends and teammates, be in a safe and healthy environment, and have something to look forward to after the school day was done. I wasn’t stuck at home soaking in misery and despair; I was, for a short time, free and happy. I was living in the moment instead of being consumed by anxiety, and this feeling has continued every time I find another sport or activity I love.
When I left for university, I knew I had to join a sport. I didn’t want to turn into a couch potato and suffer from the Freshman 15. So, for three years I was on my university’s dragon boat team, and it was the greatest decision I ever made. I joined right when I started university in my first year, first term, second week of classes. I didn’t know anyone else joining, so I was a bit nervous going to the first club meeting. However, almost instantly, I met a lot of other student paddlers and started working out to the point of exhaustion. I felt immediately welcomed into the dragon boat club which allowed me develop a sense of community and family within my university. Luckily, a part of my warm welcome was due to the warmth and welcome received during my university’s orientation week – it made the transition to a new life a lot easier. I was still brimming from the peppiness from a fun-filled orientation week.
During the Fall and Winter terms at my school, it’s too cold to paddle out in the water after the month of September. So in total, I got about two practices out on the lake in my first eight months of being of the dragon boat team. Even with the lack of experience, I fell in love the sport and feeling of paddling. I also really liked the sound the paddle made when it swished through the water. The other times during those eight months we worked out twice a week in the gym, doing cardio, teamwork exercises, obstacle courses, lifting weights, and just working our butts off so much that they got incredibly toned. Once a week, we paddled on the side of the university pool and swam around in the water. Although I had fun and felt myself improving, I always felt weak and unfit. However, I was still welcomed and a part of the club alongside all of the other talented and dedicated paddlers. Of course by the spring season, I was a beast compared to my former self and ready to paddle competitively on the water.
The months of indoor training did not adequately prepare me for my first on-water practice: paddling in a lake (not a pool). The consistency is different, and paddling on a boat in sync with the other teammates takes some getting used to. I felt terrible every single time I was out of rhythm and hit the paddle in front of me. But, practice thrice a week on the water made me feel more alive than anything ever before. It was that moment people look for when they climb mountains, see great art, that moment of “wow, this is what life is about”. I may still not be the best paddler on the team, or ever will be, but I was always extremely dedicated and came to every practice I could. I always did my best and I always felt tired, exhausted, and sweaty – but I also felt like a champion.
All those practices couldn’t prepare me for the adrenaline before my first race either. My heart was pounding so much I thought it would either explode or jump out of my throat. When the horn for the race went off I paddled harder than I ever thought possible in my whole life, and before the end of the race I felt like I was jelly. Even though we went for sometimes 10 minutes of paddling during a practice, I was pooped by the halfway point of the race – but I kept paddling and paddling and got over the runner’s wall. The feeling of self-accomplishment was one of the best feelings in my entire life.
Watching the university teams race and improve was beyond inspiring, and knowing I was on a team that just kept getting better and better was a source of pride. Throughout those three years we had won a few gold and a few bronze, and I had watched other university teams and ours going on to nationals and internationals.
I had a deep bond with a lot of my teammates for those three years. We had parties together, hung out, played board games and video games, watched movies, went out to dinner, and of course: paddled together. I loved every single friend I made.
What made me so happy to join dragon boat was the fact that it pushed me further than I thought I could ever go. I paddled and exercised and had put myself to the point where I thought I could go no further, but I did. I suffered through exhaustion and fatigue, but came out on top, still smiling. I became stronger than I ever thought possible. I was more dedicated to the team than I knew I would be. Biking 45min each way to the lake for two hours of practice, and I loved every moment.
Dragon boat raised my self-esteem and taught me that I can do a lot more than I originally thought; the only way to find out is to try it out. Never be scared of trying new things and new experiences. No one starts off as an expert, everyone fails a little at the start; it takes practice to be like your teammates. And as you get better, others around you will also get better. It’s a continuous, never-ending climb. But it’s the new, different, and difficult challenges that make a person grow. So I continued to try new sports, like bouldering, snowshoeing, skiing, and tennis.
After I moved to Taiwan, I stopped dragon boating. I didn’t join a sports team in Taiwan, but I would bike trails and hike mountains pretty much every week. It helped me stay in shape and kept me out in nature. Now back in Canada, I’ve started pole dancing. Some people may not consider dancing a sport, but pole dancing sure is difficult. It takes a lot of upper body strength, bruising, flexibility, and practice. It is also helping me find my feminine side in a wonderful environment. Everyone has been awfully kind and friendly. It’s now another activity that I love every minute of, and I keep going back to improve and improve, and to get stronger and stronger. Right now I’m going almost 10hrs a week!
Don’t be afraid to start a new hobby or activity, especially if it’s something you’ve wanted to do for a while. Chances are you’ll love it! And if not, it’s okay to move on and try something else.