OC1 Essay Content Entry - Kaelynn Tan

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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Kaelynn Tan, California


Dragon boat.

Who knew this traditional Chinese sport would become such an influential factor in my life and has shaped me into who I am today. My first few steps into high school was accompanied by my first few steps into becoming a more confident, strong person. Joining dragon boat and its community has helped me grow both as an athlete and person. Throughout the years as an athlete, I've come to realize that participating in a sport is less about building the body, but rather the spirit and community.

As a natural introvert, being in crowded environments often results in me engaging in very limited interactions with others. To say the least, dragon boat is team-based so socializing is a must. At the time when I was thinking of joining, I was very timid and reluctant to try new activities alone. Because of this, when suggested to join by my brother, I immediately asked every friend or acquaintance if they wanted to join with me. If I was unable to find anyone to go along with me, I would not try out dragon boat. Period. This is where I want to thank the four friends who coaxed me out of my shell, otherwise I wouldn’t have found the home I call Mountain View Dragon Boat.

Unlike the previous sports I’ve participated in, dragon boat is a team sport and was the very first sport that required me to collaborate as a team to win. Like I mentioned before, the thought of me interacting with a large amount of people was definitely daunting. I still remember how the curious gazes of everyone on my first few days out felt almost suffocating because I always hated being in the center of attention.

However, what helped me overcome this barrier was just how welcoming and warm-hearted people in dragon boat are. My first few interactions with the team were all positive, uplifting, and supportive. I had never seen such a great community all concentrated in one team, and because of this I came to adore MVDB -- the team and the people behind it. I’ve been on this team for almost two years now. I’ve seen its highs and I’ve seen its lows. There are many people who were dear to me my first year who no longer paddle anymore. I needed to meet new people and make new connections if this team was to continue to be my second home.

Unfortunately, my shyness doesn’t just disappear overnight, so struggling to make new friends was definitely a process that took both time and effort. I went from quietly standing off to the side to exchanging ‘hellos’ with other paddlers. They were small, but meaningful interactions and a good step in the right direction. It wasn’t until our annual trip down to Long Beach where everything clicked for me. Because this trip lasted a whole weekend and required a long drive down, I was stuck with the same people for more than a day. And that was something I did not regret; leaving my comfort zone resulted in becoming closer to many people on the team than I usually do. This slowly strengthened my love for this sport even more.

I still remember my very first day out to practice. After practice the team would usually pick a location to eat and hang out for a few hours. Between me and my small group of friends, we decided that we would join and treat ourselves out because it was our very first practice. We were all still very nervous and timid around these brand new people. The place we had chosen was In - N - Out. My friend and I had just taken our orders and were waiting around. People from the team approached us every now and then as we waited for our food. I can still remember the stiff, awkward tension present. Thankfully my number was called shortly after and I could quickly exit the conversation. My friend’s received her food right after mine as well. We carried our meals out the door and looked outside to find a spot to eat. To the right of us was the whole team crowded around two small tables. To our left was an empty two-seater hidden behind the side of the building. We looked at each other. Then turned left. Our coach immediately noticed this and headed our way. Right as we sat down he looked us both in the eye and said, “Go sit with the team.”

I’m forever grateful to our coach who stopped us from isolating ourselves from the team. Although it did turn out to be very awkward sitting there with new people for the first time, it was one more interaction to becoming great friends with everyone. Nowadays, I always look forward to post-practice hangouts with the team. Seeing how far we’ve come, it’s really amazing. I know I’ve grown as a person in my time being on the team. I’ve learned to embrace my weird quirks and be confident with who I am. I’m no longer as much of a jumbled mess when talking with others. It still takes me time to get used to new people, but I’m much more comfortable than I was before. There are people on this team who I’m extremely close with and never would have imagined I would be before I had joined dragon boat. The team is filled with so many people with different personalities, attributes, and perspectives. Yet, we all coexist as one large, happy family.

It wasn’t until I tried dragon boat did I recognize that this sport was special. Unlike other sports, it does not require a certain height, weight, or level of athleticism. Dragon boat can be for anyone. From young high schoolers to the elderly, dragon boat brings us together to work as one. And that’s hard to find in other sports. It was really inspiring to watch paddlers of all ages work together as one to race to the finish line. Correspondingly, building a relationship with team members is -- if not more -- important than building the body. Yes, winning medals is definitely a great feat but experiencing the behind the scenes of that victory is far more valuable. The core of being successful in dragon boat is teamwork. Factors such as coordination, collaboration, and communication are all important when building a team. I’ve been told by my coaches countless times that one paddler alone will not make a difference in a race, but twenty paddlers together will. This concept is what I feel makes the dragon boat community so wonderful. It doesn’t matter what your origin story is because everyone is welcomed. Getting to know those around you and establishing good relationships only makes the team stronger. I often look back fondly on how my teammates from Mountain View welcomed me with open arms. Even off the water, we always made time to meet up and enjoy each other’s company. Dragon boat doesn’t solely look at one’s athletic capabilities. In this sport, we value who you are as a person.

After witnessing how amazing the community is, I was only more motivated to try my best to live up to the expectations of other outstanding paddlers. I’ve never seriously committed lots of time and training into other sports until now. Despite this, I am still a naturally competitive person. Driven by a desire for self-improvement both due to my innate competitive spirit and encouragement from my peers, I can say that I've become a stronger athlete through improving my self discipline and self motivation. My drive to becoming a top paddler is aided in perseverance and a strong will. No matter how arduous pieces may seem, I will stay in until the very end. I like to follow the thought that a piece should never be easy. There should always be something that I can improve on to get better. Whenever I’m paddling, I’m continuously training both physically and mentally. Additional training outside of regular practice hours are a part of my daily schedule as well. I often pErg and exercise using workouts recommended by my coaches. For cross-training I partake in swimming, badminton, and gymnastics once a week. All these efforts are towards my personal goal of becoming a great paddler that others can look up to. None of this could not have been achieved without leading figures such as my coaches and teammates who have guided me. Dragon boat has really helped open my eyes of what it means to be an athlete. Training, perseverance, the drive to succeed, and learning to become a part of this wonderful community. This has become a sport that I know I want to dedicate my heart and time into. With this in mind, I hope to compete with other top paddlers around the world, and when the time comes, inspire the incoming underclassmen the way others have done for me. I know through lots of dedication and training I will reach that goal.


For one I will definitely want to use this OC to train more on the water when practices aren’t held. Currently our team houses a pErg but it can only do so much as it’s restricted to land. Having an OC is ideally the best way to train because it allows me to go on the water while pErg can only simulate it. It is also convenient to not need 19 other people to go out and train. Although the team aspect of dragon boat is important to me, if given the opportunity to train by myself, I will utilize it to improve and further contribute my efforts towards the team.

If I were to win the OC, I would share it with everyone who has positively encouraged and supported me throughout my dragon boat career. From friends to coaches to potential teammates, I want to thank them for everything they’ve done to help shape me into who I am today. This will be my token of appreciation.

In the future, this OC will be passed along to another paddler. Whether they do dragon boat or Kilohana OCC, I want to share it with the whole paddling community. I want to continue the heartwarming tradition of giving to others. One day I may stop doing dragon boat or get to old too. Who knows where life will take you. I just know I would be very honored to pass this OC to another fellow paddler and open up their doors of opportunities.


Hello! My name is Kaelynn Tan and I am an upcoming junior attending Milpitas High School, located in San Jose. I was first introduced to dragonboat my summer of 8th grade. My brother was previously part of Mountain View Dragon Boat, a local team located in San Jose, and asked me to join the team. I’ve been paddling for almost 2 years and plan to continue into college. I have also recently joined another team called Dragon Warriors which is located in San Francisco.


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