OC1 Essay Content Entry - Emily Suen

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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Emily Suen, California

My name is Emily Suen and I am currently a student at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Psychology and hope to double major in Criminology. I recently finished my first year paddling for UCI Dragonboat and am going to go into my second year as the fundraising chair of the team. Prior to joining the team, I’ve paddled in high school for a few teams including Wallenberg High School, Galileo High School, and Northwind Dragonboat. Through my 4 years of paddling, I was able to gain many qualities and experiences I otherwise wouldn’t have gained through anything else other than dragonboat.

Going into high school, I wanted to get involved in school through extracurriculars. I had heard about dragonboat because my brother participated in it in high school when I was in middle school. Because of this interesting sport, I asked the athletic directors of my school if we had such a sport, to which they unfortunately said they didn’t. After joining different sports like tennis and badminton, I met a group of girls that wanted to start a dragonboat club at our school, to which I happily volunteered to help them gain members interested. At that moment, the summer after my freshman year, would be the start to something greater than me that I’d never imagined would happen in my mediocre life.

Spending hours of my day at Lake Merced in San Francisco defined my summer of 2015. Despite barely experiencing the sport, I decided to choose dragonboat over a paying job because I thought that I’d gain more in terms of finding a community that suited me. From there, I decided to go to every single practice and every land conditioning. After 3 months of dedicated training from my team, we placed 3rd in the Northern California Dragon Boat Festival at Treasure Island. This accomplishment fueled my passion for this sport and this team. When it was time to elect new leadership positions, my coach elected me as the president because of the hard work I had put in for the year. Having never thought that I would become a leader considering how much of a quiet person I am, I was surprised and scared. Pushing through obstacles like learning to talk to my team, organizing logistics, and fundraising helped strengthen my communication and public speaking skills. After a successful year of running the team, a conflict occurred between the coaches and paddlings, resulting in the team disbanding. Due to this, many of us moved on to join Galileo Celestial Dragons in SF in the spring of 2017.

Wanting to continue pursuing my passion of this sport, I continued working hard as soon as I joined GCD, leading me to be the only new paddler that made it onto their A crew after 2 months. Being a very successful team, GCD was able to provide many resources such as OCing, pERGing, and small gym sessions at one of our coaches’ houses who fortunately lived only a few blocks away from me. With this type of availability, I definitely wanted to push myself in terms of becoming a better athlete. I felt like I had grown a lot as a person physically and mentally, causing me to believe I could have a chance at running to be next season’s female captain despite only being on the team for a few months. After results came out, I didn’t end up winning. Rather than sulking, I began to push myself even harder to become an indirect leader on the team, which is someone who becomes a leader through their actions and hard work rather than being vocal on the team. Through my time on GCD, I was given the opportunity of paddling at Vancouver in 2017, competing with some of the fastest teams in the world. In addition to traveling, through my hard work in the next year I was invited by my coach, Fred Au, to compete with Northwind in the World Championships in Hungary in 2018. To me, this was definitely something that I had never dreamt of before, let alone believe it was real. Given the opportunity of traveling to another continent to compete in a sport is something that was super surreal to me given that I never participated in any sports as competitive as dragonboat. Also being the youngest paddler for Northwind was something that I took great pride in, considering how everyone else were adults. From my experience of paddling on Northwind, I was able to gain experiences such as traveling to 5 different countries in Europe for the first time, needing to plan my own logistics and traveling situation and allowing me to be independent without my family.

After training for World Championships in 2018, I was starting to feel burnout from training so hard for so long, causing me to reconsider trying out for UCI’s dragonboat team. Close to recruitment week, I was pretty set on taking a break from paddling. But one of my former teammates from Northwind wanted to gather our teammates to create a team to paddle for Lake Merritt and have no commitment requirements. This meant we would go into race day without any training and just to see how we would do, since we took about a month break after worlds. After going through race day after taking a month break, I realized how much I loved the sport and how much I had gained through my 3 years of paddling. I ended up realizing I didn’t want to take a break from the sport but instead to try out for the team and not need to put in my maximum effort. After recruitment week was over for UCIDB, I was awaiting the call to see whether or not I was accepted onto the team. After waiting hours for the call, I ended up receiving it and teared up, because of how happy I was that I could continue doing the sport that I loved so much. Paddling for UCIDB for fall quarter, I put more effort into paddling as I intended resulting in a devastating drop in my grades, landing me in academic probation. Despite this, I was actually able to make it onto the A crew after my first quarter with the team. After a quarter of adjusting to college and joining the UCIDB community, I found a few people that are now some of my closest friends and helped me get through my deepest low of academics all the while helping me still enjoy paddling with my team. So much, that I got nominated to be on board for my second year as a fundraising chair. Knowing I have so much support from my teammates as well as overcoming obstacles, I believed I was able to balance academics as well as paddling and being on board as a second year.

In conclusion, dragonboat has given me so much in terms of knowledge, life skills, experiences, and life-long friends that I wouldn’t have gained in any other organization. Through paddling, I was able to gain knowledge of technique and learn how to deeply understand the mechanics of paddling in order to teach people younger than me. Through being on multiple leadership positions, I was able to gain skills of organization, public speaking, and persistence. Through dragonboat, I was able to meet many different kinds of people and develop interpersonal relationships, many of which are my closest friends that I have ever made in my life.

As a board member for my team this upcoming 17th Generation, I want to be able to give back to one of the teams that have given me a lot and have helped me through my lowest lows in my life. By typing and pouring my passion and heart into this essay, I slowly realized how much dragonboat has given me in life and how much I want to give back to this community. This opportunity is a great way to connect with the community and be a thoughtful way to be something that is passed down from generation to generation. I would like to give my team the opportunity to be more competitive considering how expensive college already is, and how OCing at Newport Aquatic Center, our local Outrigger Canoe facility, is both costly as well as difficult to use for all of our competitive team members. This OC would be passed down within our team to provide future members who want to improve their technique as well as be provided extra water time.


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