OC1 Essay Content Entry - Briana Nguyen

The following submission was made as an entry to win a OC1 from an amazingly generous donor, who wanted to see the canoe truly enjoyed, rather than turn a profit. Entrants were asked to submit an essay answering the following:

  • Part 1: “Describe how paddling has changed your life.”
  • Part 2: “How do you plan to use this canoe, and perhaps someday pass it along?”

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Briana Nguyen, California

Part 1: Describe how paddling has changed your life
Hello! My name is Briana Nguyen and I am an incoming third year at the University of California, Irvine. I’m currently majoring in Public Health Science and have been a part of the dragon boat community for two years. In contrast to many of my teammates, I did not have any prior dragon boat experience and truthfully, was not even aware that such a water sport existed in high school. Ironically, although my high school was located only 1.5 mile away from the beach, other water sports such as surfing or rowing was the way to go where I grew up. To put things into perspective, as I wish the reader to have a better understanding of little ol’ me, I was quite the unathletic teenager and a little obsessed with losing weight, counting every single calorie and hopping onto the scale everyday as I aimed to get that body weight down to the lowest number possible. Fortunately for me, I love food so my weight never reduced to a drastic number that would have endangered myself. Not so fortunately, this poisoned my mentality by practicing this poor habit. While I was feeding my brain unhealthy thoughts, I ironically was not feeding my body enough, limiting my full physical potential where it would take me 17 minutes to run one mile (almost passed out), my strength in dodgeball games was, well, dodging, and my greatest sport reign ever? Tetherball, specifically in fifth grade.

While at a certain point during my senior year, I decided enough was enough, and got back up on my feet, I will always tell my friends and family that joining the UCI Dragon Boat team was a definite turning point for me as it pushed me not one, not two, but ten steps forward in the game of life. Dragon boat has certainly changed my life in a variety of ways that cannot be summed up in an essay but if I had to pluck the most impactful changes, I’d break this essay down into three components: my mindset, my career path, and perspective on those around me.

Out of everything that paddling has given back to me, my top answer would most definitely be my new mindset. Coming into UCI, I was a timid, anxious student scared to push past my boundaries and open up to others. Although I had gotten back on my feet, I was still working on building confidence and self-esteem and with very little dragon boat experience, I came into recruitment week constantly comparing myself to all the other “cool” high-school paddlers. In all honesty, I have no idea how I was chosen to be on the team with my lower-than-average land stats, wonky paddling technique, and the fact that I barely spoke to any of the current team members; it was by some miracle my proctor saw me pushing hard for something, noting a glimpse of potential and for that I have her to thank to this day. But enough about that! You get the idea how I was coming into this team. Through demanding water practices and rigorous conditionings, in addition to the ups and downs this team has experienced together, I slowly molded into the passionate and resilient individual I am today. To put into better words, I had become mentally and physically stronger through my discovered passion of the sport itself in addition with the reconstruction of my self-esteem.

It’s funny how one thing leads to another, similar to a set of dominoes falling down one after the other. While a large portion of my changing mindset came from the released endorphins from paddling, and becoming physically and mentally stronger, I would say that building self-esteem derived from that fact that dragon boat has helped me realize my own strengths - strengths that I had all along. Despite viewing myself as a soft-spoken individual, my teammates helped me realize how much of a strong-willed individual I actually am, especially when it came to issues such as personal happiness and mental health. While I do take pride in setting an example as someone who has physically come a long way, I’m honestly the happiest when teammates do come up to me and ask me to share my story; it’s one thing to be “strong” on the boat, but to make a difference in people’s lives off the water is something that is truly rewarding for myself.  What I’m trying to say is, yes, I may have come some ways physically going from 0 to 9 pull-ups in less than a year, or yes, I have come some ways mentally by confidently rejecting the standard notion that all girls have to be skinny, but ultimately I’m so thankful how dragon boat has combined all these different aspects of myself, leading towards this type of activist mindset, realizing what I enjoy most and my purpose - to help others in life.

Admittedly, one of the cons about being on a competitive dragon boat team is the time commitment. Now, combining this with finding internships, other extracurriculars, jobs, fraternities, and of course, the workload that comes with being a full-time student, it can be a bit challenging dedicating more time to our career path - a trend that I often notice among UC dragon boat teams. However, I dare to disagree. While I strive to build a career outside of paddling and despite what others say about dragon boat being a mere sport and sometimes a “waste of time”, I believe that dragon boat has allowed me to strengthen professional skills. Grasping various opportunities such as becoming a DBOT (a dragon boat “internship” before coming onto board, essentially) and 17th Generation Vice President has exposed me to semi-professional scenarios that my timid high school self would have never tackled alone. Whether it was interviews, multi-tasking responsibilities behind-the-scenes, giving speeches, learning when it was appropriate to interject and speak up, public speaking, or thinking one step ahead, I was repeatedly pushed outside my comfort zone. To put it simply, being on UCI Elements has paved the mini steps for me, allowing me to venture off on my own as I search for more jobs and possible internships, ready to tackle any application, interviews, or general challenges that come my way. Furthermore, through personal experiences of my own injuries and those around me, paddling has lead me to settle on physical therapy as a career pathway as I’ve learned to appreciate the body mechanisms on how our body breaks down and how to recuperate from such injuries.

Two years ago, if you told me I was going to be a part of a competitive, driven sports team, I would’ve probably laughed in your face. If you had told me that I would be surrounding myself with a second family that would support me every step of the way, I wouldn’t have believed you. These were the major benefits that UCI Dragon Boat had to offer me when I first joined the team and it feels like the magnitude of these benefits are still expanding the more time I spend with this crew. Combined with the overwhelming support the dragon boat community has given me, paddling has unquestionably grown on me like an old friend. Every year during our annual retreat, we have a team tradition known as “candle pass” where for about 8 hours, from 9 P.M. to 6 A.M. (yes, you read that right), a candle is passed from one person to another as each person tells his or her story. Every year, I am amazed by the different perspectives and strengths every individual has on this team as each and every person share different stories, different backgrounds, and different upbringings that have shaped them to how they are today. Some stories are inspiring and end on a happy note while others, not so much. Overall, candle pass is a reality check and a huge reminder of how every individual endures their own struggles and more importantly, how we’re all in this together - we’re all on the same boat (Get it? Sorry, I’m lame.) All in all, this team tradition never fails to demonstrate the impact UCIDB has had on its members. Despite the grueling training seasons and difficult practices, it’s incredibly obvious how when us UCI paddlers come together to practice, that’s our happy place, this is our safe haven right now and if it wasn’t obvious already, that statement definitely applies to me.

Part 2: How do you plan to use this canoe, and perhaps pass it along?

In our hands, this canoe would provide multiple benefits for our team. Fortunately, UCI is located near the ocean; however, while our team has access to the Newport Aquatic Center (NAC), a center that allows us to pay a monthly membership and rent out outrigger canoes (OC), almost always, at least one or two canoes are out of commission for some reason. While such canoes do get repaired at some point, it often takes weeks or even a whole month for them to be back commission sometimes since out of all the other recreation boats (i.e. rowing or kayaks), outrigger canoes aren’t the most prioritized (in a way, this is understandable as NAC is more known by their excellent rowing teams and tourist attractions such as the kayak bring in more money from the public). In result, this can prove to be annoying or inefficient as UCI Elements, a team comprised of incredibly committed and determined individuals, absolutely love to OC. Typically, out of the fifty people on our team, this past year at least, only a maximum of five people at a time were able to OC (three OC-1’s and one OC-2) with that number sometimes dwindling when more canoes are put out of commission. In addition, this OC can help those on our team who wish to paddle more but unfortunately are not able to afford the expensive monthly membership.

Finally, I believe an extra OC would be a great tool for board members. As board members, we of course prioritize our fellow team members, providing them the best resources at hand meaning that we may sometimes even sacrifice opportunities to OC or paddle during practice (i.e. water coaches/callers/steersman) so that our paddlers have maximum time on the water. This means giving up preferred time slots for OC’ing or subbing out during practices. Furthermore, the canoe would help with time trials where we often have paddlers paddle for 300 meters in an OC-2 with three OC-1’s on hand - one OC for girls to warm up before their trial, another OC for boys, and finally the third as an anchor OC which paddles alongside the proctor boat, recording footage from the side and allowing the paddler to view their trial from an entirely different angle.

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