OC1 Essay Content Entry - Hanh Larson

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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Hanh Larson, California

I never expected to love paddling as much as I do. In fact, I joined Mission High School Dragon Boat my freshman year only to improve my fitness for soccer, which had been my focus since grade school. Five years later, despite many ups and downs in my paddling journey, my bond with paddling continues to strengthen over time. Paddling has changed my life by introducing me to a community that I can call my family, and by allowing me to grow more compassionate as a leader. Most importantly, paddling has taught me that my worth is not my athletic ability, but the way I treat people.

The first thing about paddling that I fell in love with was the feeling of being valued for who I was as a person, rather than who I was as an athlete. My soccer coaches had told me “You don’t have to be friends, you just have to play well together.” It was clear that if you were good, you were important; if you fell behind, you were irrelevant. When I tore my ACL during my sophomore year, my world ended. I watched ten years of dreams and discipline crumble in a few seconds. I was never going to be the player that I’d been before my injury, and so in the soccer community, I had lost my value. It was the paddling that pulled me out of my well of self pity.

Dragon boat not only filled the competitive void that had been left by soccer, it also provided me with an emotional support system. The people of dragon boat were like a breath of fresh air, and unlike any other community I have ever been in. My Dragon Boat coaches treated me as family, regardless of my performance. As a soccer player I had been rushed to recover just enough to play in games. A coach once told me not to go through with surgery because it would postpone my comeback. However, in the paddling community I was encouraged to take my time recovering. For the first time, my long-term health was more important than how fast I got back to competing. The compassion my friends and coaches in Dragon Boat showed me after my injury convinced me that paddling was far more than a fitness tool— it was the next chapter of my life.

Paddling has also taught me that being a leader means considering people, in a deeper and more complete way than I had ever imagined. As a high school soccer captain, I hadn’t done much more than lead warm-ups before practice. I had always admired my previous dragon boat captains and their ability to run such a large team, but I couldn’t have understood how hard their jobs were— until I stepped into their shoes during my senior year. Suddenly I faced real responsibility for my team’s operations. My ability as an athlete wasn’t the most important qualification for leadership; rather, I had to be able to organize and handle multiple tasks, on top of the expectations of a whole team. Figuring out registration paperwork, boat line ups, workouts, and recruitment—there were so many logistical tasks that I hadn’t really ever had to think about before stepping up to lead a dragon boat team.

My biggest challenges, however, were those that asked me to truly understand my teammates. For example, making workouts and practices “fun”. I’d never considered “fun” as a soccer captain; was there any use in having fun together if there was no community to bond around? It wasn’t until I saw my teammates in Dragon Boat as a complete family, with intertwining friendships, that I understood why they’d want to have fun together. I often questioned whether I was considerate enough to be captain, but, again, my friends and mentors in the community pushed me to keep trying. I also had to practice patience with my newer teammates, something I hadn’t needed as a soccer captain because most of the players had already had experience. Joining Mission Dragon Boat was many of my teammates’ first time paddling or even doing a sport. I had to learn that not everyone was going to share my competitive mindset or fitness level. It was my job to welcome them as they were, and help them strive for their own goals. With perseverance and much trial and error, I learned that the most effective tool I could wield as a leader was my compassion.

Part 2

Since competing in Vancouver during the summer of my junior and senior years of high school I have been enamored with the idea of competing in an international race on the USA U24 National dragon boat team. This year, I began to try to make this idea a reality when I participated in the U24 OC-1 time trials. However, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready. When I did my time OC-1 time trial, I saw that my times were significantly slower than the rest of the candidates. Much of the success of the other candidates was in their ability to train on their own OC-1’s. But for me, getting access to an OC was almost impossible. As a college student in SoCal, I am no longer in a place where I have the resources that were available because of my community in San Francisco. Despite this, I am determined to train for the next U24 cycle in 2021. I am a firm believer that one of the best ways of improving as a paddler is to OC and get as much water time as possible. Having this boat would be an incredible opportunity for me to grow and improve as a paddler as well as help me reach my goal of making the U24 team.

As a paddler and as a person I have only gotten as far as I have with the kindness of others whether it be resources, guidance, encouragement or opportunities. The support that I have been given is what allowed me to even dream of trying out for U24. Reaching my goals will be the best way for me to show that their help and faith in me paid off. My high school dragon boat team however, hasn’t been as lucky as I have. Coming from a small school where dragon boat is constantly underfunded, the resources to become a competitive team (such as small training boats) are out of reach. Throughout high school, I was fortunate to have mentors cheering me on and helping me train consistently in OC-1’s. I hope to someday leave the same kind of impression on the younger members of the Mission teams as my friends did for me. I also want to help provide the resources that my high school team needs to compete with the bigger teams like Lincoln and Lowell. Through leading the Mission team during my senior year, I have gotten to know the younger members of the team. I have had the privilege of watching them grow into great athletes and members of the community. I want to help them succeed as reach the goals that they set for themselves and the team. I think that providing them with an OC in the future will help them improve as not only as individual paddlers but as a team as well.


My name is Hailey Hanh Larson, but I preferred to be called Hanh. I'm 18 years old. I was born in Vietnam but I came to San Francisco when I was two. I graduated from Mission High School, and I’m about to start my second year of college at UC Irvine. I started my paddling career my freshman year of high school and have continued onto paddling in college
for the UCI Dragon Boat team. Over five years, I have paddled for a number of teams such as Mission High School, Cal Dragon Boat, East Harbor, and UCIDB. Prior to paddling I did a wide variety of sports such as swimming and gymnastics but my most notable sport was soccer which
I played for 13 years. However due to injury I was forced to retire as a soccer player after my senior year.


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