July 19, 2014
With camp being so busy it is often hard to put "pen to paper" in a timely fashion after an event. The story of this race, however, was so inspiring that it needs to be shared.
"The Sweetest Revenge is Massive Success"
The next race was the 15 and Under Mixed War Canoe. Fourteen paddlers and one cox in each boat. While the kayak heats were finishing, the six competing war boats made their way up the sides of the Pan Am Flatwater Paddling course in Welland. The paddlers were warming up muscles stiffened by the raw chill of rain that had been falling non-stop all day. Experienced coxes navigated their cumbersome crafts against wind and waves to their designated lanes. Ironically, they would work very hard at a near standstill to "hold the boats" in anticipation of the start of this gruelling 500 meter race.
There would be two Ak-O-Mak War Canoes in this race and neither was expected to do well given the "high performance" designation of the regatta. Their all-girl crews ranged in age from 10-15 and they could not have been more different from their competition! The sunny-orange, over-sized singlets, bouncy pony tails and tanned, lithe arms paddling in unison were in direct contrast to the bulging biceped, black-shirted "man-boys" flanking them. Their recipe for "mixed crew" was 12 parts "beef" and only 2 parts "sugar and spice"!
The war canoes worked their way into position, inching up to the starting line under the military commands of their seasoned coxes. The goal: to get off the line fast and get out in front to avoid the potentially perilous wash of the lead canoes.
The energy approaching the start became more intense with every passing second.
"Six and Seven, back us down!...Rights, pull us over! Draw one, two!", called Jocelyn, Ak-O-Mak's cox...."Eyes forward! Listen to my voice only!...
The words were no sooner said when the war boat of "man-boys" took their position in the next lane just a few feet away. They were as experienced in their jeering as they were in their paddling. "Yah, there's Ak-O-Mak....they just cheer loud, but no threat to us!"...
Jocelyn: "One and two bring us up one!...Hold the boat!... Sit up!..."
WAHHHH!...The loud air horn blasted, signalling the start which was ferocious! Water churned around the paddles like a shark feeding-frenzy. The rapid cadence of the powerful blades thundered through the water, causing the lead boats to leap out of the start. The inevitable wake created by the first three boats, all powered by man-boys, hit portside of the Ak-O-Mak war canoe causing it to list right then left then right again. Jocelyn and her crew rode the waves, their bodies undulating with the large swells like a rodeo cowboy on a bucking bronco. Surprisingly, everyone remained in stroke!
Once the high-performance, lead canoe pulled out of the pack, it became obvious that it would be a tight race for second, third and fourth with the two remaining boats pulling up the rear. The second Ak-O-Mak war canoe, coxed by Lilly, remained competitive and in-stroke, duking it out for 500 meters for fifth place.
Everyone on shore suddenly forgot about the cold, sideways rain, mesmerized by the race unfolding before them. They were on their feet screaming and cheering, WILLING their energy to their sisters in orange who were paddling for their lives! Could it be??...Jocelyn's war canoe was gaining on the boys-in-black, inching closer and closer with every stroke.
Anyone who has competed in war canoe never forgets the feeling at the 200 meter mark: muscles hardening with the strain of pulling so much water so fast and chests on fire in an attempt to suck more air. A mind focused on the cox's commands and the stroke rate, channelling their hunger to win into raw power! We knew how our sisters in orange were feeling and worried about them. We knew that giving in to fatigue could lead to a missed stroke or a disastrous fall out of the boat!
The three boats were perilously close as they raced towards the finish line, the Ak-O-Mak orange the only ray of sunshine in a field otherwise "dark horses". The girls were giving everything they had, but Jocelyn knew they needed more. She could see that the bronze medal might just be within their reach...
"Give me 20!!...POWERRRR!!...ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR...LET'S GET THIRD!!...GET THIRD! THIRD! THIRD! THIRD! Jocelyn yelled. Natasha, the stroke of the boat, picked up the cadence as fast as she could paddle, trusting her crew to follow in perfect time.
At the 100 meter mark Jocelyn screamed, "FINISH!!!....and with that somehow pulled her paddlers souls forth and into theirTHIRD! THIRD! THIRD!"
As the war canoes flew across the finish line, not even the athletes were sure of the placing. With their pulses thundering in their ears the only sounds they heard were the gasps and wheezes of their spent team mates, slumped over paddles and gunnels, muscles trembling from the herculean effort.
Then, as though from the heavens, the the booming voice on the loudspeaker announced, "...And in third place it is Camp Ak-O-Mak by half a stroke! What an exciting race!"
With that, the entire Ak-O-Mak cheering squad of campers and parents lining the shore errupted in surprised joy...jumping up and down, screaming, hugging each other, double high five-ing everywhere. "I can't believe it! Holy Cow!!"...
At the finish, Jocelyn and her crew took a moment to catch their breath and then it was back to business.
"Ok, way to go Ak-O-Mak. Now, SIT UP!...PADDLES UP!...TAKE IT AWAY!...One, two, three..."
They paddled proudly together in a cadence of recovery.
And as that boat of fourteen girls in orange shirts and bouncy pony tails came alongside the now somber man-boys, they demonstrated the spirit that truly makes them beautiful.
"Good race, Richmond Hill".
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