Together on the Water
Aimee Edwards Jensen
As jet lag is finally wearing off, I am still processing the ten days of competition we just had at the 13th IDBF (International Dragon Boat Federation) World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Kunming, China. People keep asking, “How was China?!” and to try to answer this question is almost overwhelming, because the possibility of answers and stories we bring back is too great! All I can seem to answer is, “Good,” which doesn't even scratch the surface. The people, the culture and the experiences were as welcoming as I remembered from a few previous trips over the past seventeen years, but the sport has grown in that time. Considering the stage was set against a mountainous, misty backdrop at 6,000 feet elevation, on Lake Dianchi, the surroundings were mystical. Imagine Opening Ceremonies in this setting, kicking off the events of the week with a literal red carpet celebration. As “The United States of America!” was exuberantly announced, we moved as a wave of red, white and blue as Team USA. The people of Kunming gave us an amazing welcome with the Parade of Nations procession, dancers, singers, and musicians that were colorful and magical. Every other year, those who attend World Championships are lucky enough to be immersed in the local culture of the host country for a short time, with this year in the birthplace of dragon boat racing.
As I reflect on the festivities and racing bringing all of Team USA together, this is the first time many of us are meeting, let alone seeing some of our friends and paddling buddies from around the United States (and beyond) in two years, since we were at Worlds in Canada in 2015. Every two years, hundreds of paddlers commit, train and work for a spot on the U.S. National Team with the opportunity to compete in a new country and city. Some of these paddlers are “rookies” on the national team for the first time, and some are “veterans” having competed at Worlds with different teams throughout the years. Paddlers from every region of the United States with various backgrounds, such as outrigger, sprint and marathon canoe and kayak, surfski, SUP and dragon boat come together to bring their experience on the water. Many of these athletes are top competitors in their field who share an understanding of competition, mindset and love of water. Each time I come away with some new bit of knowledge, or new friends that inspire and renew my love for the water and challenging myself. In my seventeen years of paddling, it has truly been about being #TogetherontheWater in more ways than one.
I am lucky enough to have done four cycles with the National Team between 2001 and 2017, and each cycle has had its “something special” that was achieved as a crew. As the competition began, the United States did what we came to do and medaled well across every age category, with stiff competition from powerhouse nations. For our premier class, a special moment was our double gold in the 1,000 meter distance as Premier Women and Premier Open. To take our podium picture, in celebration TOGETHER for the first time, was truly special. The medals are hard earned against fierce competitors, but they are a bonus. If you ask any of us for our most memorable moments from Worlds, Premier Women might include the beam of light that shone down through the clouds, directly on Lane 5 right before our gold medal final. Team USA might remember all the local spectators who started the week cheering, waving and giving us the peace sign, and ending the week throwing up a shaka to our crews as we paddled by. Some of us would definitely remember the day the Iranian team was cheering at the railing next to our tent and we joined them in clapping and chanting for teams, which led to them chanting “USA!” and ended with one of their athletes leading us all in an impromptu “We Will Rock You” sing-along. We have all met inspiring athletes and crews, some of which we recognize each time we travel to new country to compete. There are countries who are still developing their programs, and while they did not medal, they won our respect and support in the joy, pride and spirit they showed in being at World Championships. Some of these countries will earn more than medals for a strong showing. Coast to coast and country to country, belonging to something greater than ourselves, makes the sacrifice and investment worth it.
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