Friday, 29 July 2011

Sometimes sucking is enough

Three or four mornings a week, I head down to Lake Pisiquid for kayak training with my team - a bunch of post-25 overachievers, and our fearless coach, an Amazonian former Olympian who started out tolerating us and has come to enjoy coaching us. (I hope, anyway).

For those of you landlubbers, flatwater kayaking is to sea or recreational kayaking as bathtubs are to balance beams. Flatwater kayaks are built for speed, not for stability. When I first started paddling 6 years ago, it took me three weeks of paddling almost every day to get off the dock. (I only wish I could tell you I'm a late bloomer. I'm more of a fast bloom-deadhead-bloom again kind of girl).

The team has come a long way. At the end of my first year, my partner and I came third at Nationals at the Olympic basin in Montreal. Three summers ago, me and my partner (said coach) won a national title at CanMas in Halifax. My other partner and I came third in a different race. Both were the result of practicing 5 times a week, rain or shine, whether we felt like it or not.

This morning was cool and foggy. I woke up tired at 4:50 am, wrote my daily 2-page quota on my new book and headed down to the clubhouse. We were training K4 today - I was in front, then J-, then D- and our coach A- was in the back. I cringed when A- told us the workout - a 750m at 80%, then 2x 500m at 100% with minimal rest and 2x 500m at 80% in between.

Since I was in first, I had to set the pace and steer the boat. Both of which proved troublesome. The rudder was shot to hell and we zigzagged all over the Godforsaken lake. My trachea felt like the smallest straw in the world. My arms were two corpses attached together by my paddle. Halfway through the second 500m race pace, I started to panic. I can't make it to the finish line. I can't keep paddling this damn boat. I sure as hell can't steer it. I have no arm strength anymore. My team must hate me. I suck. I'm totally quitting after this practice.

Before the two people who are reading this jump down my throat, relax. I know negative self talk impacts performance etc., but for the love of God, I wanted to strangle that rudder in eel grass. It was just one of those mornings, OK?

Eventually, the practice ended and I clambered out of the boat, helped haul it up to the clubhouse, bid adieu to my teammates and drove home. Six years ago I might have wondered if there was any value at all in a bad practice like that.

But a lot has happened in the last six years. I've competed in more than a dozen regattas and done well. I've logged maybe a hundred practices, some good, some not so good, some completely awful. I've written two and a half books. All these things have required face time. Showing up, logging the miles, going home. Some days (like today) feel like crap. Other days, I feel like I could be the first human being to win both Olympic Gold and a Pulitzer. And both the good and bad experiences count toward any bit of goodness I get either in my boat, or in my vocation as a writer.

My great mentor, Cathy Jacob, told me once that life isn't about perfection, but all about recovery. "You fall off the path, you get back on. You fall off, you course correct and get back on." My spirit always aspires to greatness. But for the poor mortal creature that has to pull it off, somedays sucking is enough.

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