OC1 Essay Contest Entry - Karen Inman

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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Karen Inman, New Jersey

In June of 2017, my friend Laura Kent convinced me to try something called Dragon Boating. As someone who is up for trying something new, I said sure. That first time I stepped into the boat, I had no idea that my life was about to change forever. The second I got in the boat, I thought of my father who had died 2 years ago. He spent the majority of his life on the Schuylkill River, rowing Nationals, Olympic Trials and Senior competitions. It occurred to me how tickled he would be to see me here, in a boat, on the river. I regretted that I couldn’t tell him all about it.

I was first surprised how many people were in the boat -20. 10 rows, 2 people sitting side by side. It was quite cozy and a little intimidating. To say that Laura just threw me in there would be an understatement. I had no idea what I was doing but I figured, what the hell. So on the command “paddles up!”, I followed the person in front of me and raised my paddle. Then the command, “Stroke”, and we began. I was surprised how quiet it was as the paddles went into the water. (In later months I found it wasn’t so quiet during a race). So we paddled what seemed like forever, up the Delaware River in New Hope Pa. By the time we finished the “warm up”, my arms were aching and my heart was pounding. Wow, this was a really good workout! The bug had already started to bite me. This was really fun. So, over the next few months, I became a regular, learned the technique, and gradually became aware how dedicated, intense, and passionate these women were about dragon boating. As, each week passed, I was becoming just like them. I found that I was looking forward to practices and couldn’t wait to get on the water. The more I paddled, the more I realized there was so much more to this sport than had first met the eye. To get 20 people, perfectly synced, hitting the water at the exact same time, is not something that comes easily. It takes many hours of practice to perfect and there are many nuances to the stroke that can differentiate a team that is able to win races or lose races. It soon became very clear to me that I was on a team, coached by Greg Chang, that was a winning team, capable of winning a national title and capable of going to the world championship.

So here I am a “newbie” on this amazing team. I clearly have a lot to learn, but seem to be hanging in there for someone who hasn’t done this before. But me, being the competitive person that I am, want to compete and want “TO RACE”. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other, more experienced paddlers than me so the first festival I go to, I only get to race in 1 race. But the race was amazing! I then saw the value of all the practicing. The 200 meter race only lasts about a minute, but there were hours of practice that went into that race. A little disappointed that I didn’t get another race,   Laura, my voice of reason, reminds me that I have only be doing this 6 weeks and to be patient. So I continue to go to every practice and the next festival is in Washington DC. Even though some of our main paddlers were not at the festival I hardly slept the night before. Would I race at all? Would I get a chance? Would I be good enough? So the day came. We had the women’s Fusion Team and the Mixed team competing. I held my breath as they called the people for the first race and my name was called! To make a long day, shorter, I ended up in 6 races. 4 for Fusion and 2 for the mixed team. It was the highlight of my summer. We even got a gold medal. As a 62 year old woman, I have to say, I felt pretty accomplished.

Over the next few months, intensity continued to build for the Nationals. Only a certain number would be chosen for the team and everyone was feeling the pressure. Tensions were high, practices were intense and everyone was on edge. Coach Chang push us harder and harder. Just when we though a practice was finished, as the sun set and lights lit up New Hope, coach would say “again”, and we would continue on our quest for perfection. That continued for weeks until it was a week before Nationals. There would be 24 spots for nationals and there were at least 30 of us hoping for a spot. When the day came and my name was not called, it really hurt. Not so much that I didn’t make it, but because I had put all the time effort and hours into it and wasn’t quite good enough. I kept telling myself that I was new to this and still had a lot to learn. More importantly, the women who did make it, deserved it. They had worked longer and harder than I had and had so much more experience than me but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

So Nationals came and of course I went to cheer on my team. This was a big deal. The winners would go onto the world championship in Szeged, Hungary in the summer of 2018. I was still bummed that I wouldn’t be paddling but I sucked it up. After the 500 meter races we were in first place and Coach Chang approached me and first asked me what my weight was and then stated, “You seem like a really nice person, can you be a bitch?” A little confused with his question I replied, “Well, if you ask my husband on any given day, he would say yes!” He then went on to ask me if I would be the drummer in the 200 meter races. These races are very quick (under a minute) and he didn’t want any extra weight on the boat. He explained that the drummer not only keeps the cadence by drumming, but also has to motivate and drive the paddlers to reach their maximum potential. I said I was up for it and was happy that I would have a little part on this National team. The drumming experience was great, but it was no substitute for paddling.

So we ended up winning Nationals and I became more determined than ever to be on the team going to Hungary. I approached Coach Chang and asked him what it would take for me to get a seat on this team. He said my technique was decent and I have a good attitude, but I need to get stronger and improve my endurance. He explained that everyone on the team is now eligible to win a seat for Worlds and other paddlers from different clubs can also try out.  This was going to be harder than I thought but I was also going to make sure I did everything I could to make this team. One of the biggest measures of our ability will be the paddle ERG-the bane of everyone's existence. It’s similar to a rowing machine but simulates the paddle stroke. We would be tested on our time and stroke rated on both the 200 and 500 meter races. We have to turn in our scores every 2 weeks. Once again I’m nervous...can I do this?....will I be good enough?.....am I too old?

For the last 12 weeks I have been working with a trainer in addition to running, ERGing and lifting weights on my own. My scores have consistently gone down but it’s a slow process. I have definitely gotten stronger and my muscles have gotten bigger. Unfortunately so have everyone else’s. We thought we wouldn’t be tested until March but it’s been moved up to the beginning of January. The reality is, if I am doing as much training as some of the women who are 20 years younger than me, they will be stronger than me. Making this team is definitely a long shot since I am such a novice and also so old. Haha. Training, however has given me a goal to work towards and I have really enjoyed the journey.

So D-day came and I was not chosen for the team. I mourned for a couple of days but then realized it was a long shot all along. I really had only been paddling for 4-5 months and didn’t have the experience. Everyone who made the team deserved to be there and I was happy for them. I was placed on the “reserve list”. Knowing that a lot could happen between Feb and July, I continued to work out with my trainer, went to the paddle pool, and started paddling with the team in April. I was excited to paddle on Fire, the mixed team and went to practice on May 3rd. Coach Chang pulled me aside and asked if I would like to go to Hungary. My heart was beating and I was trying to contain my excitement as he explained to me the details. So now I am going to Hungary, and hopefully will get a chance to represent my country. It’s been a roller coaster of a journey and I can’t want to see how it ends up. I am so proud to be a part of this team and all of the amazing women who are part of it!

Hungary was a life changing event and our team performed above and beyond our coaches expectations. Now we are back to the grind, thinking ahead to France in 2020. Over the winter we had an intense off-water training program that was so challenging, it made grown men cry. We were told that part of the selection process for France will be time trial testing on the OC1. Several of my team members have their own OC1’s and the minute paddled on one, I fell in love again. It was so great to be able to paddle on both sides and to really “feel” the water on each stroke. I could see what a great training tool this could be in my quest to make the 2020 team going to France and how it will help me develop my stroke. I have been on a quest for a used OC1 now for several months and they are not easy to come by.

I would be honored to put many miles on your OC1 and pass it on to the next deserving paddler when the time comes. You embrace the heart and spirit of the paddling community, who I find to be the most genuine people in the world. Thank you for this opportunity.


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