By Mark Kendall, Team Captain
Arriving in Singapore as a “Trailing Spouse” presented me with a completely different perspective on being an expatriate. I had previously enjoyed two overseas postings in my working career, so I felt reasonably confident that I would integrate into a new life in Singapore. However, without the daily interaction with work colleagues and friends and family, this proved to be more difficult than I expected. Quite by chance I met up with a friend of a friend who had also just arrived in Singapore, who suggested we have a beer with American Dragons Singapore at their monthly social drinks, gathering at Ice Cold Beer, Emerald Hill. We were both warmly welcomed and before the evening was over, we had signed up for our first dragon boat paddling experience the following Saturday afternoon.
For me it was the start of something I could never have imagined would end up being such a key part of my integration into living in Singapore. I have always enjoyed sport, particularly team sports, so being able to participate in a team sport again at 60 was, for me, very exciting and, for my kids, unbelievable. Over the next few months my awkward attempts at paddling became more proficient, with expert coaching from an ex-national paddler and the incredible encouragement from the American Dragons crew.
Dragon boating is a physical sport and you get a great work out. Training is necessary, not just to get and maintain fitness, but to practice the key technical elements of the paddling stroke, the timing with the rest of the crew, and the stroke patterns for the various race distances. So, it was with some trepidation I signed up for my first race – a demanding 500m sprint – only three months after having first stepped into a dragon boat. The Singapore Dragon Boat Festival at Bedok reservoir was my first regatta ever. I will never forget walking down to the dragon boat with my team, adrenaline heightening my senses with a heady cocktail of emotions, mixing excitement, fear and gut-wrenching worry of not letting my crew down.
The paddle to the start didn’t calm my churning stomach and, as we lined up at the starting pontoons, my heart was pounding. Then, without warning the starter commanded, “Hold your boats!” This was it. “Are you ready!” No turning back. “Attention.” I gasped... The starting horn sounded, my paddle dug into the heavy water, and one, two, three, four, five strokes passed in a flash. We soon reached our starting pace, then in the blink of an eye we were opening up into our maintenance strokes before the charge to the finish line. The whole race was over in two minutes, but it felt like 15 seconds.
Exhausted and exhilarated I had made it without many mistakes, if any. The second heat seemed easier and, against all odds, we won a medal. My first regatta, my first podium – third! As a club, we had had a very successful regatta and so it was back to Ice Cold Beer to celebrate. It’s difficult, even now, to explain the feeling of achievement at being presented with my medal in front of all my team members.
It wasn’t long before the next regatta came along – the National Games. This time the distance was 200m and we made the final of our event by the skin of our teeth, qualifying through the repechage. All the same emotions welled up as we reached the starting pontoons, but this time I knew what to expect. The starting horn went again and we got a bad start, but all of a sudden the magic happened. The crew became connected as one and the boat took off, crossing the finish in line with all the other boats. Catching my breath and looking up I could see all our team members jumping up and down in joy. I picked out my wife who was holding up her index finger and smiling: first place… GOLD! There is no feeling like it.
I could go on about the 10k race around Marina Bay, The Mardi Gras fun race and party we hold every year, the almost spiritual weekly Tuesday morning Dawn Patrol practice sessions watching the sun rise over the CBD, but most of all it’s the comradery of the club and my teammates from all over the world coming together to make American Dragons Singapore a very special club to be part of.
Why not come down to Kallang and try out Dragon Boating? I promise you’ll have a fantastic time and, you never know, you may end up with a medal around your neck!