It’s hard to not let Multiple Sclerosis (MS) leave you feeling defeated. There are some things your body can’t do, there are some things you won’t allow your body to do, and there are some things your body does all on its own – without your permission.
But just when you start feeling sorry for yourself, someone comes along and rains on your pity party. In my case, it was a boat full of someones – the MS Warriors, Victoria’s premier MS dragon boat team.
I was first introduced to the MS Warriors by a good friend, Claire, in the summer of 2009. I was paddling with a local outrigger crew, but had spent the previous summer dragon boating, so was not unfamiliar with the sport. The Warriors invited me to jump in and paddle with them. I was thrilled!
The team was made up of both men and women ranging in age from 20 to 60 with all members impacted in some by MS in; they either had it or had a family member with it. Fitness levels and abilities as well as physical limitations varied from person to person. I use the term limitations loosely, as over time I discovered that the last thing any of these paddlers did was place any limitations on themselves.
The challenge race for the year – Head of the Dragon – a gruelling 3k course with 3 buoy turns. For those of you who are not dragon boaters, this is an incredibly difficult race requiring a great deal of endurance (the race takes approximately 30 minutes to complete). Most dragon boat races are 1000m and no more than 3 minutes long. Head of the Dragon is a true test of one’s fitness.
The team met two to three times a week for about an hour each time to prepare for the race. At first we covered fairly short distances but over time our coach, Roman, had us paddling further and further. It was great to see how everyone progressed as a group.
On race day, I was quite nervous. I knew my teammates were ready, but was I? Would I be able to prove myself worthy of my seat in the boat? To be a warrior is to be a fighter. And this particular group of warriors show more courage and vigour than any other group of people I know.
We made our way down to the dock and loaded the boat one person at a time, canes and wheelchairs left behind. After a brief warm-up we lined the boat up for the race and when the start gun went off we made our way around the course without hesitation.
My muscles began to wear under the strain. As tired as I was, there was no way I was going to give up. How could I? Everyone else in the boat was pouring every ounce of energy into the race, leaving nothing behind.
After 30 minutes of paddling we were done!
I take my hat off to every warrior in the boat that day. Their strength, conviction, and sheer determination to finish, and finish well, is something I think about before every race I have. It is part of what now gives me drive. It is my warrior beast within.
Dragon boating has helped me improve my fitness level and ultimately manage my MS. If you are someone using dragon boating to manage your disease I encourage you to contact me so we can share your story with others.