Kialoa's own Jamie Kinard recaps her experience at the 2017 International Dragon Boat World Championships.
I had the unique opportunity as an outrigger canoe paddler to compete with Team USA in the 2017 International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships in Kunming, China. For five full days, teams from four different continents and countries as small as Myanmar, as large as China, as familiar as Canada and as unexpected as Iran gathered at Dianchi Lake to test their abilities in the 200 meter, 500 meter, 1,000 meter and 2,000 meter races.
While outrigger canoe paddling has allowed me to see many places, meet people from all walks of life, and make lifelong friendships, never in a million years did I dream it would take me to China in the sport of dragon boat paddling.
When I think back to what resonated most with me during that week in Kunming, it was not the medals that Team USA earned, but rather the stories behind those wins, the stories of resilience, triumph and a no-quit attitude. Gold medals by themselves are boring. What really captivates and inspires me is the story behind the athlete – the journey that entails great sacrifice, hours and hours of preparation and the grit to push through and triumph over obstacles along the way. The accolades and recognition is simply a by-product of the process, a process that I love to go through and that I love to hear about in other athletes’ endeavors.
So, that is what I decided to share from my trip, the stories behind Team USA men’s and women’s gold in the 1,000 meter race.
On the men’s side, let me introduce Dave Lee. Dave has been paddling and coaching dragon boats for ten years and in July 2013, his life was forever changed in a critical vehicle accident. He had to be extricated with the Jaws of Life and med-evacuated via helicopter to the nearest trauma hospital. His list of injuries was serious and expansive: hearing loss, synkinesis (a miswiring of nerves after trauma), Bell’s palsy (weakness in muscles on one half of the face), and fractures to his pelvis, femur, feet, face, etc. that required titanium rods and plates to be inserted. After two months in the hospital, Dave was able to return home where he spent the next six months relearning the basics like how to properly walk and talk. He went on to do far more than just put one foot in front of another.
In the beginning of 2016, Dave decided to make a comeback in the sport of dragon boat paddling and set a goal he had never set before: to make the US National Team for the 2017 World Championships. After a year and half of intense training and dropping 30 pounds, Dave did in fact make Team USA and I had the great honor of watching him and the rest of the US men cross the 1,000 meter finish line in first place. Dave was able to reach the highest pinnacle of the sport due to his undying perseverance and the support of his family, friends and teammates. That gold medal is such a great reminder of what the human spirit is capable of, especially when coupled with people who simply believe in you and the dreams you are bold enough to chase.
In the 1,000 meter women’s race, no one expected the US to prevail and not for a lack of confidence in the women’s program. First, the US women have never won this race to date. Second, Canada and China easily won their preliminary heats to go straight to the finals as the top seeds, while the US women had to race an additional 1,000 meter semi-final race in order to even qualify for the finals. Everyone was looking at China and Canada in the centermost lanes as the favorites to sweep the event 1-2. What they did not count on was the US coming from behind China’s blistering and always impressive start to take the win by a hair. From my angle in the middle of the boat, I was not even sure who squeaked out the win until I saw the elation of our strokers and drummer after we crossed the finish line. Even though this is not my “sport” per se, I was beyond stoked. What made the win extra special was hearing how some veterans had been trying to win this race for a decade. Ten years of determination and hard work culminated into a single 1,000 meter race which also happened to be held in the birthplace of the sport, China. What a day! And to share the podium with the men for the first time in US dragon boating history was a moment I will never forget.
I would like to send out huge mahalo to the Team USA coaching staff for leading us throughout the week and everyone behind-the-scenes who organized our logistics to make the week smooth and enjoyable. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to Thailand 2019 where the men and women can defend their 1,000 meter victories!
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