Samsun, Turkey, May 2012
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The sky is grey, the wind not too strong and my left leg is wet. The team is in a fun mood, some fool around, some drink tea. We try to appear relaxed but deep inside I feel the same as my team mates: we could have paddled faster. The dragonboat is not hard to paddle; the only important thing is that all sixteen team members paddle in perfect synchrony.
Our team has far more than sixteen members. We paddle for the TEGV, a volunteer based institute that supports gifted children. The city of Samsun decided to support the volunteers with one free dragonboat place in the big race. Yasin, our host in Samsun, is one of the volunteer teachers and he is the one to ask if we want to support the team paddling. Out of the more than 100 volunteers only a few wanted to take part, so we were happy to join the team.
In the training we do a fairly good job. We learn the correct seating position, how to avoid making a big mess with the water and – most important – how to synchronize. “Friends, always adapt to the rhythm of the person in front of you!”, Yalçın shouts. “And do not forget to lean forward when you paddle!” Yalçın is the self elected leader and motivator of the team. He seems to be always in a hurry and every few seconds he looks around nervously. But for somebody who has not paddled a dragonboat yet either he makes a great leader.
Two days before the race, we take part on the preparations. The team meets once or twice daily for training. We shout “Bir! Iki! Üç! Dört! Beş!” One number with each move. Good thing we have learned the numbers in Turkish. Then we change it to “Hey! Hey! Hey!”, then to “TE! GV! TE! GV!” (at least that is what I understand and shout). Then we change back to the numbers but all the way up to ten. Sometimes a drummer supports the rhythm but if there are not enough people we paddle without a drummer.
We do a good job in the training and also in the last minute “dry training” on land that Yalçın orders just before the start. When we paddle towards the start line we decide to change the shout one last time to “TE! GV! TE! GV!”. On the start line we float next to the other five boats.
Nobody speaks, from the land we hear the cheering of the other volunteers. “Take positions” a man yells through a megaphone. Yalçın looks more nervous than ever before. “Remember to always paddle exactly synchronic with the person in front of you!” he shouts. The starting shot appears and like frightened chicken everybody moves his paddle as fast as he can. Our synchronization is a mess and liters of water are shoveled inside the boat on the other team members. Yalçın starts counting loud to return to our usual order but only a few of us join him shouting out numbers. We are a mess. Everybody tries to paddle strong and use his power but we forget that only in a synchronic team we can be fast and strong. Two boats overtake us, then another one. We find our rhythm back after one quarter of the way but the hard paddling in the beginning made us tired.
One more boat overtakes and we arrive in the finish line as fifth out of six participants. While we are waiting for an empty place to land, somebody shovels a lot of water on the other members behind him and a water fight begins. We laugh out loud and fight as if we still had the power for another race. On the land we laugh about ourselves and our poor show. Nobody took the race too serious but still I feel the hidden disappointment in the others as well as in myself. We would have liked to make a better job. In the second race in the afternoon we run even worse. Out of the 50 boats we score one of the last places. “Next year we will do better!” Yasin tries to cheer us up. And he means the offer, as well as all the others. “Yes, you have to come and support our team next year!” Who cares what place we score if we have the opportunity to join such an amazing team?