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I kēlā me kēia mana`o


June 2004 

First Race of the Season

At Double Hull Sprints and Distance, sponsored by Mountain Home Canoe Club
Vancouver, Washington, May 8, 2004.

By Paul Lugo

We are paddling up to the starting line. This race will be a straight five hundred meters over mildly lumpy water. The boat feels good and so does my body.

For several weeks we have been training hard for this race. Today the boats have been lashed together with large crossbeams to form catamarans. The twelve people in my boat paddle smoothly and confidently.

As we pause for the boats to line up, I try to remember the strong and weak points I wanted to concentrate on today. My mind is blank. Now there had been several shortcomings in my stroking last week in practice. Today I wanted to focus on them to paddle perfectly. Right now I can’t think of any of them.

The starter’s voice comes from a megaphone. Panic. I can’t remember what I had to work on.

“Paddles up”. My mind is blank. I have forgotten how to paddle. What am I supposed to do after the first stroke?

Breathe deeply; build up some oxygen reserve. My blade comes up and poises. What am I going to do when the horn blows? Why did I come out here?

Go! Blade goes in deep and strong, but my arms and belly are weak. No time to worry about it; have to keep up with the others.

Change sides. Good change. This morning the right side is ready and strong. I pull deep and powerfully. So do the others. Everything is automatic.

The first 100 meters arrive. I have serious doubts about the wisdom of competing. I do not remember that any race was so hard, so fast paced, and so demanding. I do not remember it being this hard during practice. I should have stayed home.

Two hundred meters. Oh, now I remember. I had to work on my changes. Last week in practice my right and left changes had been worse than any beginner’s. Okay now, focus on the change like my life depends on it. Good. Made another one.

Aue! I have to paddle like a beginner to get everything right. Strong bottom grip, especially before the change. Exhale on the stroke. Twist at the waist. This is awful. The only way I can do this is to instruct myself like a beginner.

Oxygen debt. The muscles are burning. The lungs have to help, but can’t keep up the supply. I am not sure I want to do this anymore. Now the changes come too frequently, yet we cannot pause for a moment of relief. At the halfway point my body is completely stresses out and rebels. But, I can’t let the crew down and I sense we are in the lead. I continue only because I have done this before, and have lived through it.

I try to put more strength into my strokes to make sure I’m at one hundred percent. I don’t want to have anything left when we cross the finish line. But, my arms are maxed out already and I know the eleven other crew members are moving the boat.

This means having to maniacally stroke harder. Every pore in my body wants to release un-needed substances. To survive at the four hundred meter distance I need only bones, muscles and oxygen. Everything else is superfluous. The pain increases. I have to find a different sport.

In the midst of the flashing blades, flying water, and burning lungs and muscles I remember why I am here. I will not give up. Not for a moment. I would rather die then to give up.

Athletes call this the Zone. The mind detaches from the pain and effort. It demands the body to exert faster and better. I can hear shouts and calls from the kahakai. The crew moves as one. The steersman is saying something, but I don’t care. I am maxed out and the boat moves well. Nothing he says matters as we are already at one hundred percent.

Make the changes. Each left-to-right/ right-to-left should be the last, but isn’t. Pay attention to the basics.

The last seventy-five meters….go for broke. Everything is numb. All remaining effort must be put into the stroke. Harder won’t hurt as the body’s anesthetic kicks in. I force my body for the last perfecting strokes, harder than any coach can demand.

Finally we are over the finish line. I heard the horn as we cross. The slow motion Zone leaves and I look up to see that my crewmates have faces and bodies. I recall that towards the end some white boat had flashed past us like a torpedo. How could that have happened?

It doesn’t matter. We went all out.

Yes it does matter. Next time we must beat them. Next time I will demand better performance from my body. I hope the coach pushes us harder next week. That loss was depressing. I will work on my stroking until my body does not protest.

Paul Lugo paddles for Hui HeiHei Wa`a in Silverdale, Washington.

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