OC1 Essay Contest Entry - Shawn Li

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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Shawn Li, California

Journey Through Paddling

“We are not leaving this place without a medal.” I tell myself. Never in a million years did I think I was going to care so much for something like paddling. And here I am, writing a story about it.

The bell rings, signalling the start of a new school year. I nervously step out of the car and walk towards the school. A fresh new high school student with no commitment to any clubs. My first day comes to an end. A tiny boy walking around aimlessly with absolutely nothing to do. The dean notices me and reaches out, he takes me to the afterschool program where I learn about the school for about a week or so. Although it was boring, it was a way to kill time. Another empty day goes by and I am taken to the school weightroom to clean up. There, I meet some members of the Dragon Boat team, a club I never even thought about joining. After talking for a while, I was coerced into joining by a scary senior who would later become one of my best friends.

First practice comes by, and I am filled with thoughts like: “what if I hold people back? I’m so skinny and weak.” Luckily, I had some other friends who joined as well and were there to support me. It was a cold day. I put on those smelly PFDs and wore a long sleeve which I would later regret as I did not expect to get as soaked as I did. As I took the bus home, I thought: how do people do this on a regular basis? I can never be that strong. I went home and knocked out due to sheer exhaustion. Dragon Boat had earned my full respect and dedication. I go to land training the next day and hit the weightroom. I was put in a group with a junior who trained me. Our group was deadlifting 115 pounds. No matter how hard I pushed off the ground, it was devastating to see that it didn't go up. I decided to weight train everyday just until the upcoming Lake Merritt race.

Lake Merritt comes by in a flash. I felt we had a pretty solid crew. I couldn’t sleep the night before, but it didn’t matter because we had to get up at 5:00 A.M. anyway to drive across the city and set up. I look at the starry skies as we cross the bridge and imagine myself in the boat moments before the race. Seedings blow by quickly along with gendered races, and just like that, it’s time for my D division finals. I pace nervously, telling myself: “We are not leaving this place without a medal!” Adrenaline rushes through me as we approach the start line. I bury my blade and get ready — the first stroke felt as if I was pulling on a cement block. I give that race everything I had — only to lose by one second. This loss was exactly what I needed, though I didn’t realize it at that time due to being so upset. This motivated me so much to workout even more and get stronger to better my paddling.

Although I have only been paddling for about two years now, in a way, Dragon Boat has saved my life. I was extremely underweight (90lbs.) and insecure. Through weight training and paddling, I put on a decent amount of muscle, allowing me to be more confident in myself and talk to people. Dragon Boat has also helped me with my social skills as there are so many people in the community with different stories to listen to. It has also given me the drive to strive for success. I learned to apply my competitiveness from Dragon Boat to my academics as well. Most importantly, Dragon Boat has helped me find a family. All of my closest friends have been met through Dragon Boat and I really hope that it stays that way for the rest of my life.

Now that I have been paddling for around two years, I believed it was time to step into the world of OC. I have not had the opportunity to yet, but it seems really fun. I would like to use it in hopes of improving myself as a paddler. Being a high school student, it has been pretty difficult getting access to an OC1, so it would be pretty nice to have. If possible, I would also share it to other members of the team who might not have access to an OC so we can all improve together. As for someday passing it on, I would love the idea of making another writing contest like this one to continue the tradition


Shawn Li is a 15 year old San Francisco native. He is currently attending Mission High as a sophomore. Prior to Dragon Boat, he has done various sports like karate and swimming, but never really found it as intriguing as paddling. He enjoys working out everyday in the gym and eating all types of food. Shawn likes to watch anime as it helps motivate him to workout even harder.


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