Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the category “Sports”

The Four Seasons living in Ottawa: Winter

Well, it was a winter that won’t soon be forgotten. A truly Canadian winter from the days of our youth when the snowsuits were hauled out in November and didn’t come off until April. Even the hardiest, most winter-loving among us have to admit to wondering when that meteorological villain dubbed The Polar Vortex would finally release us from its icy, unyielding grip.

On the positive side, with all that extreme cold, we almost broke a record in Ottawa for longest number of skate days on the Rideau Canal. The protracted deep-freeze also ensured that the ice surface was in pristine condition for just about the whole skating season. The ice was so smooth at times that you could be forgiven for thinking you were skating inside a hockey arena on synthetic ice and not outdoors on a natural rink. What a pleasure it is to skate to work in the morning, get out for some fresh air during your lunch hour, or enjoy a romantic pas de deux with your significant other under the stars at night – especially if there is light snow falling…

There was also plenty of snow to be had this past winter, too, much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders. The cross-country ski season started in December and went right through to April. We are so lucky in Ottawa to live so near Gatineau Park. It’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. Although it is but one of many outdoor recreational sports I engage in, skiing in Gatineau Park is easily my favorite winter activity. There’s nothing like leaving the city behind and winding your way up through the heavily wooded Gatineau Hills for some unparalled aerobic exercise and mental relaxation. No matter how I feel when I leave the city, I always feel amazing after an afternoon of skiing in Gatineau Park.

The photos below were taken this past winter while out skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway or cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park. They were all taken on my iPhone and then edited later in Photoshop. Normally, I would use my SLR camera for photoshoots, but it’s too bulky to carry around when you’re doing sports! Although it is no substitute for a good SLR camera (which you can do so much more with when shooting in manual mode), I was impressed by the quality of the images I was able to get from the iPhone’s camera.

Winter may be harsh at times, but it is truly a beautiful, magical, contemplative season, as eloquently and convincingly argued by Adam Gopnik in his 2011 CBC Massey Lectures series, “Winter: Five Windows on the Season”. I highly recommend listening to the podcast or reading the book. You will gain a new appreciation and perhaps affection for winter.

At the National Arts Centre looking northwest towards Parliament

At the National Arts Centre looking northwest toward Parliament

Skating under the bridge at Patterson Creek to the Rideau Canal

Skating under the bridge at Patterson Creek to the Rideau Canal

Skating after a fresh snowstorm on the canal near Dow's Lake

Skating after a fresh snowstorm on the Rideau Canal near Dow’s Lake

The natural skating oval of Patterson Creek

The natural skating oval of Patterson Creek

Skating near the Bank Street Bridge with Southminster United Church in background

Skating near the Bank Street Bridge with Southminster United Church in the background

Taking a break under the bridge

Skating under Bank Street Bridge

Cross-country skiing through the mist along Ridge Road in Gatineau Park

Cross-country skiing through the mist along Ridge Road in Gatineau Park

The impending storm: descent from Huron Look-out

The impending storm: descent from Huron Look-out

Climbing the Fortune Parkway in Gatineau Park

Climbing the Fortune Parkway in Gatineau Park

The serpentine ascent up the Fortune Parkway to the Lake

The 1.5-km serpentine ascent up the Fortune Parkway to  Fortune Lake

Tough slog up Fortune Parkway

My sister taking a break from the tough slog up an icy Fortune Parkway

The bench at Huron Shelter where skiers take a break from an ascent up Ridge Road or collect the courage for the ride down!

The bench at Huron Shelter where skiers can take a break from the ascent up Ridge Road or summon their courage for the wild ride down!

Last skier out of the park

Nightfall: the parking lot at P9 was abandoned and in almost complete darkness (save for the glow from my headlamp and the lights in the distance from the ski hill at Camp Fortune) after I finished my late afternoon ski in Gatineau Park.


First Bite Out of the Big Apple: Weekend in NYC

I’ve visited a fair number of US cities over the years but surprisingly, never New York City. So, when my corporate wunderkind little sis suggested we meet up in the Big Apple for an extended weekend, I was all in.

Ever the planner and trip-maximizer, I happily marched over to the World of Maps shop in Hintonburg to pick up some pre-trip research materials, namely Lonely Planet’s Discover New York City, National Geographic’s Walking New York, a super-handy and compact Popout map of New York, and of course, the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine at my local newsstand. This systematic review of NYC was rounded out by consultations with NYC-savvy friends and colleagues along with studying a vast number of electronic articles and resources.

I figured, rather blusteringly on retrospect, that hey, I organized and executed a solo first trip to Europe last fall by myself, so how hard could it possibly be to take in all of NYC that I wanted to see on a 3 1/2 day extended weekend?

Afterall, I thought, I’m an infinitely curious person with energy to spare (especially when it comes to travel and exploration), I’ve got a keen sense of direction, and am a consummate strategist and contingency planner. Perfect, right? Wrong. Despite all of these desirable qualities for travel in tote, even I would be forced to admit that I am not super-human and this portfolio of assets, though valuable, would still not permit me to simply discard any notion of having to make rational choices or trade-offs and instead live like a hedonist in an economically-lawless utopia (or dystopia, depending on your view).

In the end, in spite of not getting to see everything I wanted to see, I still wound up with a good introduction to NYC. Kind of like making new friends at a meet & greet with a promise to meet up again for more than just wine & apps. Until next time then, here are a few slices out of my Big Apple trip. (More to follow later…)

Waiting for train into Penn Station from Newark Airport

Waiting on the platform for a train into Penn Station from Newark Airport, which was kind of sketchy…

On Broadway Ave outside our hotel in Times Square

Exploring Broadway Avenue outside our hotel in Times Square after rolling my suitcase (with a broken wheel) 14 blocks  through a sea of people to get to our hotel. As my little sis aptly observed, NYC is like ‘Toronto on steroids’. Indeed. Couldn’t have described it better, myself.

Interior of Marriott Hotel in Times Square

Interior of NY Marriott Hotel in Times Square where we stayed  overlooking the lounge below. The whole time, I was trying to figure out whether the design was representational or abstract. My logical-thinking left brain insisted that the repeating pattern of lines & curves was clearly a stylized rendering of musical notes and symbols along bars & staff lines as the hotel’s acknowledgement of being located on Broadway Avenue. Never did get around to validating this theory though…

View of Times Square from hotel window

View of Broadway Avenue/Times Square from our hotel window. It’s true what they say: New York never sleeps, though it was a lot quieter on the Sunday morning.

Grabbing a quick lunch at Pret a Manger near Times Square

When I was in London, UK last fall, an ex-pat friend there had introduced me to the popular Pret a Manger chain for picking up fast, healthy lunches. I was quite pleased to discover it upon arrival in NYC. They post total calorie counts for all their food, which is fantastic for helping one make purchasing decisions. Pax Wholesome Foods was a similar restaurant that posted total calorie counts for everything they sold. My little sis and I visited the Pax shop on Broadway in Midtown a couple of times to pick up lunch/brunch en route to Central Park for an al fresco meal under the trees on a park bench. Thanks to the posted calorie info, we discovered that a half-sandwich along with a small beverage and treat (usually a small cookie) provided ample energy to fuel an afternoon of walking the streets of NYC. It would be nice if restaurants in Canada likewise posted calorie info to help consumers (including travelers without access to home-cooked meals) make better food purchasing decisions.

Thursday evening diners at Eataly

On our first night in NYC, my little sis, her work colleague, and I decided to check out Mario Batali’s Eataly on Fifth Avenue for supper. I was particularly curious since the combination resto-market had come highly recommended by several friends. It did not disappoint! The space is huge and the vibe energetic, sophisticated but unpretentious (thank goodness, since I was not exactly rocking my most chic self in jeans & sneakers). It clearly looked like the go-to spot for the after-work crowd. After hearing we wouldn’t be able to snag a table for supper for close to an hour, we decided to check out the bar scene and soak in the atmosphere in the interim.

Eataly is a combination restaurant-market, so expect to see many people come in for different purposes including to pick up groceries, mingle and enjoy a few after-work drinks with co-workers, or relax over a leisurely supper with friends in the restaurant space. I personally thought Eataly had a magical, almost festive quality about it, making it a potentially great spot for a date or a celebratory outing. Speaking of dates – sort of, I was flattered to be approached by a well-dressed, lean, fit man while waiting in line for some stracciatella gelato on our way out of Eataly.  The guy, a silver-haired, smooth corporate type from Brooklyn, looked exactly like John Slattery of Mad Men fame. He chatted with me in line and then proceeded to buy my gelato. (Guys take note: buying a girl ice cream is always a good call compared to offering a cheesy pick-up line.) ‘John’ happened to also be out with two other variously intoxicated, but well-attired businessmen, who then (like loyal wingmen) proceeded to engage my sis and her colleague in sidebar conversation. After a while, and especially since everyone but me was sporting a wedding ring, we girls decided to conclude the evening festivities, much to our prospective suitors’ dismay. We quickly made our way out into the night, and after failing to hail a yellow cab despite our best efforts, we made a run for the nearest subway station under an inadequately-sized single umbrella as it began to rain again. [Above: The ‘meat market’ at Eataly.]

Wine & appetizers at the Eataly bar

The bar scene: Where we, along with the after-work crowd, initially congregated at Eataly. Small, elevated rectangular tables served as the anchor for delicious food & drink, animated conversation, and  the requisite people-watching. It was standing room only.

Enjoying wine, cheese, and a charcuterie plate

My comparatively more food & wine-savvy little sis & her colleague ordered a nice charcuterie plate with cheese along with some wonderful wine. It would be easy to spend the entire evening simply enjoying these delicacies, as the couple next to us seemed to be doing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & apps and plenty of socializing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & appetizers and lots of socializing at Eataly.

Running route along western side of Central Park

After our memorable, epicurean night out at Eataly, I was keen to get up early and go for a run in Central Park, which I had yet to explore. As someone who much prefers running on quiet trails in the woods to unforgiving asphalt in a noisy, urban, concrete jungle, Central Park turned out to be a little piece of paradise for me. [Above: Running route along western side of Central Park with the famous San Remo apartment cooperative in the background.]

Central Park mall

The lovely Central Park mall, which reminded me of the time I spent walking, running, and cycling through London’s Hyde Park last September, and to some degree, the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. NYC nannies with their precious charges, dog-walkers,visual artists, food and NYC knick-knack vendors, and musicians could all be seen along the route.

Central Park mall

A couple is spotted walking under the protection of their umbrellas along the Central Park mall on a cloudy morning marked by occasional light showers.

View of Bethesda Fountain near upper Terrace

Toward the end of my run, a view of Bethesda Fountain through the trees from the upper Terrace in Central Park.

Central Park St. Bernard puppy

I spotted this gorgeous, 4-month-old St. Bernard puppy named ‘London’ lounging at the  steps to the Lake in front of Bethesda Fountain. Of course, I had to pat him (he was so soft!) and chat with his gracious owner.


'London' contemplating the beauty of Central Park

‘London’, like a Wordsworth, clearly contemplating the inspiring beauty of Central Park (all the while, unaware that I was crafting an elaborate dog-napping plan once I hit upon on a suitable diversionary tactic to distract his owner. ;-)).

Nostalgic gelato shop near south entrance of Central Park

Central Park had made such an impression on me that previous cloudy morning that for the remainder of my stay in NYC, it became somewhat of a ritual for me (and my sis) to visit this urban oasis each morning/early afternoon before hitting the busy streets and shops for a packed day of sight-seeing. [Above: Nostalgic gelato shop located near south entrance of Central Park.]

Father and son watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park

Father and son contentedly watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Four children gather at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Scooters and children seemed to be everywhere in Central Park. Here, four young children pause from their spirited play at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

Talented children's singing ensemble performing in the Terrace Arcade in Central Park

Soaring, angelic voices could be heard from the ornate Bethesda Terrace Arcade in Central Park from a talented children’s musical ensemble. We encountered performers  of all sorts in the Park, including a lone saxophonist and a lively crew of very athletic tumblers.

View of the San Remo  across the Lake in Central Park

Wherever we walked in Central Park, I always found myself drawn back to the Lake to admire the scene of dozens of rowboats before me. It brought back fond memories of the all-too-brief afternoon I spent in Oxford, UK, last fall when I happened upon punters under the Magdalene Bridge. (Now, that was romantic on a scale of Lord Byron. (sigh)) [Above: Couples and families enjoying leisurely paddle across the Lake in Central Park with a view of the San Remo in the background.]

Fit couple in foreground enjoy leisurely paddle on the Lake in Central Park

A very fit, tanned, attractive middle-aged couple in the foreground articulates the romance of a paddle on the Lake perfectly, particularly as the woman enjoys a chauffered ride on the water like Cleopatra with her Mark Antony on the Nile.

Young boy stares longingly at the remote-control sailboats on the Conservatory Water in Central Park

I came upon another lovely water scene at the Conservatory Water in Central Park, where a young boy stares longingly at the remote-controlled model sailboats gliding atop the pond in Central Park. A model sailboat-hire kiosk was located nearby, where children and adults alike indulged in this time-honored activity dating back to more than 135 years. Even E.B. White‘s beloved Stuart Little sailed these storied waters.

Ottawa Race Weekend in Review: Snapshots from 2012 and 2013

This weekend, Ottawa played host to the largest road race in Canada – the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Although it wasn’t sunny & warm like it was for the 2012 edition, the cool temps, gusty north winds, and grey skies for this year’s races nonetheless didn’t stop some record-breaking finishing times.

Like I had done last year, and since I was still dealing with running-related injuries, I decided to practise some action-shooting with my new Canon EOS 60D SLR camera, which is a beast compared to the more vintage (but respectable) Nikon model I was using last year, and also a bit of a challenge familiarizing myself with all its advanced gadgetry! Hopefully, with time and dedicated practice, I will come to tame this beast. I took in the 10-k race on Saturday night (May 26th) and the half-marathon race on Sunday morning (May 27th). Since I’m not a morning person, I opted not to take in the marquée marathon event, since it got underway too bright and early for my liking on Sunday morning at 7:00 AM…

The picture below was taken from the Bank Street Bridge over the Colonel By Parkway. It shows the crowd of 10-k runners closing in on 7 km in the final stretch of their race. The night was sunny, warm, and spectacular for spectators and photographers. If I were running the race, I think I would’ve preferred the cooler conditions we had this weekend. It’s awful to be overheated when you’re running, so a good rule of thumb is to always dress a bit on the cooler side, knowing you’ll warm up as you get going.

2012 10-k race along Colonel By at Bank Street Bridge

2012 10-k race along Colonel By Parkway from Bank Street Bridge

This shot was taken of  some 2012 half-marathon runners progressing past the 4 km mark along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just before the canal empties into Dow’s Lake. I had found a prime piece of real estate on the grassy median. Prior to descending to this spot, I had been perched atop Bronson Bridge and had a fascinating chat with a fellow SPAO student experimenting with long-exposure photography using a homemade pinhole camera. I never did get to find out how his photograph turned out…

2012 half-marathon race on Queen Elizabeth Parkway at Bronson Bridge

2012 half-marathon race along QE Parkway near Bronson Bridge

This final shot from the 2012 Race Weekend was taken from Bank Street Bridge overlooking the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just over 3 km into the race. You can see the stream of 10-k runners peeking through the trees with the old (now demolished) Frank Clair Stadium in Lansdowne Park in the background. In the foreground, a couple in a canoe alternate between paddling the Rideau Canal and cheering the runners on.

2012 10k race on Queen Elizabeth parkway at Bank Street Bridge pre-Lansdowne demolition

2012 10-k race along QE Parkway at Bank Street Bridge pre-Stadium demolition

A bit of a blurry shot of these super-fast elite women runners (=the leader pack) past 3 km into the 2013 10-k race before they disappeared under the Bank Street Bridge along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway.

2013 10k elite women on QE parkway at Bank Street Bridge

2013 10-k elite women on QE Parkway from Bank Street Bridge

The even faster elite men approaching the 7 km homestretch mark of their 2013 10-k race along the Colonel By Parkway from the Bank Street Bridge.

2013 10k elite men on CBy parkway at Bank Street Bridge

2013 10-k elite men on CBy Parkway from Bank Street Bridge

The leader of the pack after 4 km of the 2013 half-marathon as seen from Bronson Bridge. He clearly owned the road at this point, as the next competitors were several seconds behind him. I actually thought he would overtake the guy on the pacer bicycle, who looked more like a recreational cyclist than serious athlete. This guy, a local Ottawa runner, held the lead and went on to handily win the half-marathon race.

2013 half-marathon elite men leader after 4k on QE Parkway at Bronson Bridge

2013 half-marathon elite men leader after 4 km on QE Parkway from Bronson Bridge

This threesome of cyclists, who I think were probably volunteers with Race Weekend, were particularly spirited with their loud cheers and even louder cowbell. There were plenty of high fives and lots of smiles from those 2013 10-k runners who decided to glance their way or reach out for a high-five. As a spectator, it was quite a festive and fun atmosphere being alongside this group, who were stationed along the Colonel By Parkway just before the ramp to head up to Bank Street (south).

Cowbell-clanging cyclist-cheerers lifting the spirits of weary 10k runners along CBy at Bank Street Bridge

Cowbell-clanging cyclist-cheerers lifting the spirits of weary 10-k runners along CBy Parkway just before Bank Street Bridge

Tinkering with my shutter speed as another group of 2013 10-k runners speeds past me along the Colonel By Parkway just prior to the Bank Street Bridge.

2013 10k runners speeding toward Bank Street Bridge along CBy

2013 10-k runners speeding toward Bank Street Bridge along CBy

A dad encouraged his kids (who were all likely there to cheer on their running wife/mom) to step out and extend a high-five to the 2013 10-k runners making their way into the homestretch along the Colonel By Parkway toward the Bank Street Bridge. The cheering kids were clearly delighted with how many runners obliged them, often flashing them a wide smile. In the background, you can see the steady stream of 10-k runners progressing through the first 3 km of their race on the opposite side of the Rideau Canal on the Queen Elizabeth Parkway. You can also see the huge cranes punching the skyline that have become a permanent fixture in Lansdowne Park as redevelopment is now well underway.

Cheering kids delight in giving 2013 10k racers a much needed high-five along CBy at Bank Street Bridge

Cheering kids delight in giving 2013 10-k racers a much needed high-five along CBy Parkway near Bank Street Bridge

The throng of 2013 half-marathon runners progressing through 4 km of their race along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway as seen from the grassy median before Bronson Bridge. Note the pacer bunny in red in the middle, whose job it is to keep her racers on pace for meeting the group’s finishing time goal; these pacer bunnies are definitely the unsung altruists in the race, putting the glory of others ahead of their own. Having said that, it was interesting to hear how the elite pacer (sans bunny ears) from Kenya initially charged with keeping the elite marathon men’s leader pack (two men for most of the race) on track for challenging a course record decided to throw down against his lone runner protégé from Ethiopia for the gold medal through the final 10-k or so of the race. The Ethiopian runner, however, ultimately eked out the win but with the narrowest of victory margins (i.e., less than seven tenths of a second).

Pace bunnies play an essential role helping 2013 half-marathoners meet their race goals

Pace bunnies play an essential role helping 2013 half-marathoners meet their race goals. (Shot from the grassy median along the QE Parkway just before Bronson Bridge)

This woman cheering on the 2013 10-k runners along Colonel By at the Bank Street (south) ramp was so enthusiastic I thought she had to have been a varsity cheerleader with that energy. Not only did she wave a homemade poster à la American Idol or The Voice with a message she said was designed for no one in particular (‘You are Super-Fantastic!’), but she was also unwavering in her cheering words of encouragement for all the runners who raced past her.

Cheering fan holding poster proclaiming to all 2013 10k runners  'You are super-fantastic!'

‘Cheerleader’ fan holding poster proclaiming to all 2013 10-k runners ‘You are super-fantastic!’

A mass of 2013 half-marathon runners with varying gaits and cadences along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just before Bronson Bridge. It reminded me of a conversation I had recently with my hard-core, younger running cousins, who are varsity runners in their track & field and cross-country teams at university. They noted that most people do not run as efficiently as they could, in large part because of the tendency to heel-strike instead of striking with the (more aerodynamic) ball of one’s foot. They believe that the less efficient heel strike is as prevalent as it is among recreational runners because of the design of running shoes today, which they say, favors this type of strike. They also spoke of how amusing it was to see how extensively some runners pack their fuel belts with hydration solutions and gels for such relatively short-distance runs; they personally do not don this nearly standard piece of recreational running apparatus. (Since I personally use a fuel belt to run – not to hydrate, however, but to house my i-pod and keys – I must admit to having felt slightly sheepish and a bit uncool owning up to my own habit of regularly cinching up with a fuel belt, despite my non-traditional purpose.)

2013 half-marathoners passing the 4k mark along QE parkway at Bronson Bridge

2013 half-marathoners passing the 4-km mark along the QE Parkway just before Bronson Bridge

The enthusiastic cheering section along Colonel By for the 2013 10-k race. It was such a chilly evening (owing to those strong north winds) standing out there. I actually wore gloves and dressed in layers, but still left prematurely owing to getting chilled! By comparison, this time last year, people would’ve been in tank tops and shorts, and enjoying weekends at the beach or outdoor community pool. I’m not complaining since I don’t love those protracted heat & humidity waves that invariably settle in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor over the summer months, but it seriously felt like a mid to late autumn evening. Nearly ideal for running, though, were it not for those strong headwinds on the final half of the 10-k.

Crowds lined CBy at Bank Street Bridge as the 2013 10k racers closed in on their final 3k

Crowds lined the CBy Parkway near Bank Street Bridge as the 2013 10k racers closed in on their final 3 km.

This is a shot of a particularly determined group of predominantly male 2013 half-marathon runners along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just before Bronson Bridge. This was a great vantage point for taking some close-up shots of the runners, but I had to be vigilant of where I was in relation to the runners as some who were doubtlessly chasing PBs were so (understandably) intent on breaking free from the pack, that they would off-road it temporarily onto the grassy median where I stood before inserting themselves back onto the road. Fortunately for me and the other spectators, race volunteers were out in force to limit this leap-frogging, likely to minimize the risk of a Betty White-like Snickers ad tackle on an unsuspecting spectator.

2013 half-marathoners pushing toward Bronson Bridge and Dow's Lake after completing 4k

2013 half-marathoners pushing toward Bronson Bridge and Dow’s Lake after completing 4 km

Vancouver: Is there a more beautiful Canadian city – despite all the rain?

I’m an East Coaster born and bred, and so I already come from God’s country – The Maritimes. Having said that, I’ve also lived for nearly a decade in Montreal, a city very near and dear to my heart. Known for its vibrant arts & culture scene, politics (provincially), gastronomy, and of course, the Habs. Montreal was also where I found my voice both personally and professionally.

It has been said that those who grew up by the sea will always feel the lure of the ocean even if they end up moving away. In other words, you can take the Maritimer away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean away from the Maritimer. And so, whenever I have the opportunity to spend some time by the sea – east coast or west coast – I take it! 🙂

Last week, I had to be out west for business, so I decided that once the work was completed, I would tack on a few extra days and fly over to Vancouver to hang out with my relatives and recharge with a little R&R and a lot of great outdoor recreation.

If you’ve never been to Vancouver, I highly recommend a visit. I’ve been there three times in all: once in 2002 (fall), 2012 (fall), and just last week (spring! :-)) with this latest trip. Don’t let Vancouver’s ‘wet blanket’ reputation dissuade you from exploring it. Despite the clouds, fog, and rain of last fall, there was still no shortage of natural beauty and activities to enjoy in the city, including shopping and great dining. As you’ll see from the photo spread below, the weather gods totally spoiled me during this latest trip. How many cities can deliver warm sunshine, fresh salt air from the ocean, snow-capped mountains, dense forests, lush vegetation (in the form of flowers, blossoms, and a thick urban tree canopy), a magnificent, oceanside city park, cool breezes at night, all manner of outdoor recreation (believe it or not, there is still some downhill skiing to be had at this time of year), shopping, and world-class dining all on the same trip?.. I thought not. Too bad it’s so expensive to live there!?.. 😦

So, this is a sunset view from the waterfront of Granville Island looking out toward downtown Vancouver. We hunted all over the place to find a gelato vendor that was open on a Monday night. Finally, we discovered the little Asian lady’s shop tucked unobtrusively between several other small tourist shops along the wharf.

View of harbour from Granville Island

Enjoying a gelato and the view of the harbour at dusk from Granville Island

This is a shot of the harbour fronting downtown Vancouver that I took while cycling through Stanley Park last fall. It was a damp, cool, cloudy, foggy day, but I thought the grey and blue tones produced a beautiful, moody landscape.

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

A popular tourist activity in downtown Vancouver is to take a flight on a float plane over to Vancouver Island. It’s tempting and the views are probably quite spectacular, but I think I will personally stick to the ferry service!

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront, fall 2012

These intrepid kayaking guys – at least one of them – were not shy about being photographed for posterity as they plied the sometimes choppy waters of the harbour from False Creek across the narrows dividing Granville Island from the downtown.

Kayakers in harbour near False Creek

Kayakers enjoying early evening paddle in False Creek harbour

This photo was snapped on my first afternoon roaming Granville Island on foot (I hung out a lot there!) using my Blackberry’s camera. It wasn’t a very high res pic, so I decided to sepia-fy it (à la MacAskill) in Photoshop to give it that old school feel.

Yacht club along Granville Island

Boats moored along Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

These guys and their vintage car were such a throwback to James Dean cool. So wished I’d brought my hard-core SLR camera to take their pic instead of my BB camera. At least, the BB was much more covert than a bulky SLR with a big, protruding lens.

Boys & their car

Boys & their cool retro car on Granville Island

Ahhh, the Public Market on Granville Island… Such a great vibe, despite it being high-tourist season now. Super place for people-watching and doing some photography. When I first visited it last fall (see pics below), it was not so bustling as it was last week, but weekends can still be teeming with people. The food – especially produce – looked amazing. I was so tempted to just buy my groceries there even though that would’ve been completely impractical stuffing perishables into a suitcase for a flight home. Except for the ocean outside, the Granville Island Public Market reminded me a bit of the Jean Talon Market in Montreal, where I previously made many fond gastronomical shopping memories.

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market, fall 2012

Good enough to eat!

A feast for the senses, fall 2012

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

A must-do activity – regardless the weather – while in Vancouver is to go for a bike ride around the seawall of Stanley Park. I read recently that the Dutch believe there is no such thing as bad cycling weather, only bad clothing choices. I would mostly concur with that assertion. It’s hard to imagine not enjoying the splendor of the Park – even if you happen to get caught in some rain. Could be quite Zen or even romantic!

Stanley Park Boathouse in the fall

View from Stanley Park Boathouse, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Van in background

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Vancouver in the background

Did I mention all the city beaches in Vancouver??? It seemed everywhere we ran or cycled, we came upon a beach. This one (below) was located on the west side of the Park facing English Bay. Clearly, school was out, as this beach was packed with sun-seeking students. I was amazed by the number of bikes. Vancouverites really embrace two-wheeled transport; at times, I felt like I was in a Little Amsterdam or Denmark.

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Yet another beach – Kitsilano. What was so interesting about this particular pic (below) was the Coney Island-like Kitsilano Showboat stage, whose history dates back to 1935. I discovered this little nostalgic gem while I was biking back from a trip out to UBC. The huge swimming pool located behind it was also a curious juxtaposition against the Kitsilano Beach waters of English Bay. You can see the small outdoor amphitheatre of seats in the foreground, where I spotted several runners racing up and down the steps for their morning work-out.

Kitsilano Showboat - a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Kitsilano Showboat – a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Pedaling a bit further, you bike through a sandy bit of trail that cuts across the main section of Kitsilano Beach before entering a more treed section of bike trail, where if you’re lucky, you will gaze upon a number of lovely sailboats dotting English Bay through the trees. The morning before these shots were taken, I was running through this area – sans camera, unfortunately – and saw the most perfect scene of tranquility in the greyness of the sky and the colorful sailboats bobbing peacefully on the glassy water. It was a breathtakingly beautiful scene that would’ve inspired a classic Kiff Holland nautical-themed watercolor.

Bike path along Kitsilano Beach

Bike path near Kitsilano Beach

View of English Bay

View of English Bay

This was a cute, spontaneous moment. Two kids on bikes and their mom were stopped along the trail staring intently up into a tree. The little girl announced with the earnestness of a budding biologist that they were observing a woodpecker carving the entryway to his waterfront tree house. I spotted him alright, but he certainly blended in well with the bark so that I really needed a zoom lens to capture his image clearly.

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

When I visited Vancouver for the first time back in 2002, I did a day trip by ferry out to Vancouver Island to explore Victoria and its famous Butchart Gardens (as well as the Rogers Chocolates flagship store and the Empress Hotel). I did not even know of the existence of the beautiful Van Dusen Botanical Garden located right in Vancouver! I learned of it this trip, however, because my cousin was helping host an evening fundraising event at the Gardens, so I was invited to tag along. Since I am not exactly a glad-handing, work-the-room extrovert, (au contraire!) I decided to explore the grounds and go on a bit of a photo shoot.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was the main building where the fundraising event was held. It was the perfect, sunny, warm evening for it. The setting was absolutely magical. Too bad I didn’t have a date! 😦

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

I loved wandering through the canopy of flower bushes and tree blossoms, but I also loved some of the interesting trees in the Asian garden section.  I think for my next trip to Vancouver, I will have to explore a lush, mature forest like that of Lighthouse Park recommended by my cousin.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was a particularly stunning section of the Garden. I love roses and the landscaping reminded me of when I was in France and visited Monet‘s Garden at Giverny. This rose garden definitely would’ve inspired an Impressionist canvas!

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

The hustle and bustle of Granville Street… Now this was a part of the city (lower Shaughnessy) that I spent a lot of time walking through. The retro Stanley Theatre (below) reminded me of something I would see in a Fred Herzog exhibition.

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

There is a great Chapters store on Broadway and Granville where I could (and almost did) spend hours whiling away the time browsing through the latest books.

Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

W Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

Shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

Hallowe’en display in Pottery Barn shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012


One word: Meinhardt. This was my adopted food haunt in Vancouver. And yes, it’s a grocery store, but it’s a really cool, European-like fine food emporium with sidewalk terrasse and colorful flowers on display that really knows fresh food and merchandising. I discovered this shop last fall and would go there every day to pick up a delicious homemade sandwich or salad, perhaps some yogurt and fruit, maybe a slice of banana bread or homemade granola bar, but always the requisite chocolate chip cookies +/- dark chocolate bar. This time around, I picked up a 6-inch decadent carrot cake for a birthday party and it was awesome – though I still am left wondering how off-the-chain delicious that decadent dark chocolate layer cake would’ve been – my cousin is not a chocoholic like I am, so carrot cake it was!.. Next time…

Meinhardt grocery store, fall 2012

Meinhardt grocery store on Granville Street, fall 2012

This poor Lab puppy looked so forlorn waiting outside in the rain last fall as his owner no doubt was inside enjoying a delicious, fresh, gooey cinnamon roll – probably straight out of the oven…

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Mmmm Purdy's along Granville Street, fall 2012

Mmmm… Purdy’s along Granville Street, fall 2012

If you are as addicted to Indian cuisine as I am, then no visit to Vancouver would be complete without a stop at one of Vikram Vij’s award-winning restaurants. Last fall, I was fortunate to be in town on business with a colleague who was acquainted with Vikram Vij, himself, so we decided to go to Vij’s one night for supper. We were greeted personally by Chef Vij and I was totally starstruck! It was a Friday night, so his restaurant was packed. They don’t take reservations, so we had to bide our time patiently at the back of the restaurant with all the other foodies, feasting on complementary wine and hors d’oeuvres. It was like a party atmosphere not unlike an after-work cocktail hour. Since my friend is Indian, I deferred to him for recommendations on what to order, but we shared our plates. He, having the famous lamb, of course. I settled for something vegetarian with (lots of) curry. We were stuffed, but it was worth it!.. Last week, my Vancouverite cousins and I went there on a Monday night and got a table right away. I think I was the only one who had eaten there before, ironically. We ordered four different dishes for sharing and it is safe to say, there was not a speck of food left on the plate when we finished. The pork tenderloin in curry sauce was particularly outstanding. I had to laugh at my super-slim cousins, who are accomplished varsity runners: they easily devoured their meal along with several rounds of naan bread. Afterward, I treated everyone to gelato on Granville Island, which required us to walk down hilly Granville Street (and then back up!) to get there. Good way to work off all that food!..

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij's two restos: Vij's and Rangoli

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij’s two restos: Vij’s and Rangoli at W 11th and Granville

A walk through the quiet, tony, tree enshrouded neighborhood of Shaughnessy, where a good proportion of Vancouver’s elite reside, is a relaxing diversion. The houses are imposing but tasteful, and the properties impeccably managed. These are the kind of homes one would expect to see featured in Canadian House & Home. An elegant black limousine stopped to allow me to cross the street during my walk, doubtlessly carrying some famous Vancouver luminary inside.

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

One of my last excursions was a bike ride out to the University of British Columbia from the downtown. My cousin works at the UBC hospital, so lucky for me, she said she’d bike with me to UBC. So, we set out in rush hour traffic that crisp, sunny morning, joining the throngs of other cyclists making their way to work or school. It was a great 35-40 minute ride, but wow, there was quite a section of hills to climb toward the end. Glad I dressed light and in synthetic fibers or I would’ve needed a shower! The campus was modern and minimalist with an eye to sustainability. Trees could be spotted everywhere and I was quite impressed by the flowers and shrubbery by the hospital’s urgent care entrance.

UBC campus

UBC campus

UBC Hospital

UBC Hospital

The ride back to the downtown was absolutely thrilling! I was on my own, so had to navigate my way through campus and down the hill through a couple of posh neighborhoods to pick up Marine Drive.  I was a little leery about riding in traffic without a helmet (my cousins did not have an extra helmet to loan me) on a road bike, but Marine Drive was a mostly flat, smooth, relatively quiet ride on a country-like road that ran parallel to the ocean. With trees on either side and snow-capped mountains visible across English Bay, I was practically euphoric in the experience! It got a little trickier, however, around Jericho Beach with the traffic picking up, so I moved over to the relative safety of the shoreline’s bike trails and continued weaving my way along the coastal path until Granville Island. Knowing time was short for catching my flight back home, I quickly dropped into Meinhardt one last time for a great take-away lunch before grabbing my suitcase, and hustling out to catch the city bus and then Sky Train to the airport. Until next time, Vancouver!..

Does running regularly give one license to eat?

Does running regularly give one license to eat?

I don’t know the definitive answer to this question, but I suspect the answer is probably no. Even for those among us who have a healthy body mass index (BMI) and who have achieved a high level of cardiorespiratory fitness.

I used to run with a fairly hard-core, fit group of runners (many of whom would win races or finish near the top in their age category) until I got injured; I still run regularly, but I now also participate in other sports for cross-training to mitigate the risk of further injury. Anyway, when I used to run with this group of talented runners, it was customary to hit the local pub twice a week following a run for beer, a burger & fries or big plate of pasta. Although I didn’t personally partake in this food/beverage post-work-out feasting ritual, I did (and still do) regularly indulge in a fair amount of dark chocolate.

With all this unchecked eating/drinking among runners/athletes I knew, I often found myself wondering whether the running really undid these regular dietary splurges. Despite the amount and type of food consumed, the runners didn’t seem to gain weight (that I could see), but was there anything else adverse happening inside their bodies, metabolically? I don’t know, but it’s a question I’d love to know the answer to.

Many years ago, as part of a Master’s in Nutrition, I did a study of people with untreated high cholesterol to see if prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medication (in this case, a statin drug) affected whether people adopted the concurrently recommended ‘usual’ lifestyle advice given for eating healthy and exercising regularly. My hypothesis (or hunch) was that if people were given a pill, which they believed would control their cholesterol, they wouldn’t see the need to eat healthy or exercise regularly. My study was small (53 people), single-blind (participants didn’t know whether they were receiving a statin or placebo, but the investigators did), and only conducted at one site, so the findings have important limitations. Nonetheless, we did not find any appreciable differences between groups in any of the parameters we investigated, including weight, food intake, or exercise after 12 weeks, suggesting that maybe the presence of a pill didn’t affect behavior. It’s only one study, though, and a small one at that. Had I gone on to do a PhD, I would’ve liked to probe this question further in a larger, longer, more detailed study, perhaps in another group of patients, where we would also look at hormone levels and other endpoints.

Regardless, I have now been sensitized to my own dietary indiscretions after reading that the amount of exercise I do likely doesn’t completely vanquish all those chocolate (and other indiscriminate) calories I consume like I hoped it would. (See I’ll still exercise regularly, because I love it, but I won’t count on it for undoing the bad dietary choices I make.

Swimming: A Yearning for the Life Aquatic

Summer, 2012

I’m out for another evening work-out on another sweltering summer night in the city. I have never seen Ottawa looking so dry. Alarmingly so. We have not had rain for more than a month, and the straw-colored grass is just thirsting for water. During the day, it looks as if we live in a giant wheat field like the one depicted by the 20th century American realist painter, Andrew Wyeth, in his tableau, Christina’s World. An odd  juxtaposition of happy sunbathers can be seen along the canal near the Corktown footbridge soaking in the intense sunshine seemingly either blissfully unaware or undisturbed by the desperate, drought-like conditions surrounding them. As night falls, our sun-scorched earth becomes a version of Van Gogh‘s ominous Wheatfield with Crows, where pedaling along the parched Arboretum‘s lonely bike path expectedly triggers the doleful a-hink-a-honk chorus from the hundreds of resident, apathetic Canada geese, floating disinterestedly on the warm lagoon waters.  A small, skittish cohort suddenly breaks away in V formation, having decided to seek skyward sanctuary; their remaining feathery flâneurs left bobbing over the small series of waves generated from the wake…

Another day, another night of heat. The wind has changed, and so the smell of smoke from a brush fire in the city’s west end now permeates the warm, humid air, causing me to defer my run until tomorrow morning in favor of a swim indoors. I’ve just started working out at the university pool since my community pool is closed for the summer for much-needed renovations to its dilapidated roof and ventilation system.

The Quest to Conquer the Fear

The university pool is a hard-core, 50 m competition pool filled with water tending on the cold side, conducive for supporting top performances by its varsity swimmers; my unassuming community pool, by comparison, is only 25 m in length with a balmy ambient water temperature perfect for more casual or leisure-inclined swimmers. I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of kicking around on a flutterboard in this big pool, imagining all those aspiring Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin swimmers lapping me several times over…

I am still learning to swim properly. It’s not so much the physical aspects of swimming that elude or intimidate me, but the considerable psychological baggage I carry for deep water that I can’t seem to unpack. It’s been more than a year that I’ve been incorporating pool work-outs into my athletic routine, but I am growing impatient with the plateau I seemed to have hit in my swimming progress.

My interpretation of the famous Edvard Munsch painting, The Scream.

I took some adult lessons last winter, which began with promise, but then I seemed to lose momentum. I struggled fruitlessly trying to master the art of treading water without exhausting myself from the effort. I’ve tried both the ‘bicycle’ and ‘egg beater’ techniques, but my legs and arms invariably tire after moving about at Mach 8 or like the powered-up propellers of Porter‘s Bombardier Q-400 turboprops. I cannot seem to get myself to slow down in the belief that I will float. By contrast, the rest of my less fit classmates easily mastered this essential water safety skill. I was discouraged, but soldiered on, albeit dispiritedly as I watched my peers transform into confident, competent swimmers, effortlessly completing 25 m up and 25 m back. I would achieve no such breakthrough.

During the in-between time of my lessons, I mostly stick to my security blanket routine of non-stop laps up and down the 25-m section of shallow water at the university pool supported, of course, by my large, trusty red flutter board. Because I kick away vigorously and continuously for almost an hour, the effort usually provides a decent cardio (and muscular endurance) work-out and most importantly, a much-needed cross-training break from the unforgiving, repeated pounding my lower limbs have sustained from all the years of exclusive running.

Physically, I do not look like someone who cannot swim. In fact, I probably look like someone who swims well — possibly at a Master’s level. With my focused, hour-long flutterboard sessions, I would often be queried by curious swimmers in the adjacent lanes about what I was training for; I did not fit their image of a non-swimmer and so they were always more than a little surprised to learn that no, actually I was still learning how to swim.

What is it about Deep Water?

I don’t eschew the deep end of the pool entirely. In fact, I often enjoy doing laps on my flutterboard there especially to avoid the usually crowded lanes of the shallow end or getting hit in the head by a wayward ball from the rambunctious pick-up water basketball games among the 20-somethings that go on concurrently in the adjacent leisure lane. When I’m relaxed in the deep end, I imagine myself being supported on top of a giant bowl of Jell-O or a very big waterbed; I can easily sense the difference in buoyancy between the shallow and deep end. When I’m not relaxed, work-outs can become suffused with anxiety, where I experience a hyperawareness of the depth beneath me and a consequent need to remain within relatively easy reach of the pool’s side wall; I still persist with my work-out, but I am relieved when it is over and I can exit the deep end.

In spite of this long-standing fear of deep water and the challenge this presents to learning to swim, I have perhaps surprisingly always derived a great deal of artistic, spiritual, and intellectual inspiration from being near water — especially oceans and lakes. I think it is this desire to one day be able to safely canoe, row, or kayak solo in open water that most fuels my desire to learn to swim.

If I think back to my youth, there was a time when I delighted in going to my community pool for public swims to cool off during the hot summer months with my friends and sisters. Like most kids, I took swimming lessons, even excelling in my early series of Red Cross classes; however, I had not yet reached the level at which classes would be conducted exclusively in the deep end.

One day, during one of those care-free summer afternoons of my youth spent at the local pool, I remember wanting to try jumping into the deep water in such a way as to minimize splash. I was not a slim kid and so my jumps into the pool tended to be more on the ungraceful, cannonball side. I was also becoming increasingly aware of my slightly excess corpulence as a girl on the verge of puberty coupled with a generally increased self-awareness of physical appearance.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome of my attempt at a rip entry jump. I jumped in straight, entering the water feet first with pointed toes like an arrowhead. However, I must have let myself descend too far since I began to panic. Fortunately, survival instinct kicked in as I was able to claw my way back up to the surface without drawing attention to myself. Hovering over the side of the pool, alternatingly gasping for air and clearing my throat of the water I had inhaled, I remember physically trembling as I thought about how differently this experiment could’ve turned out. Sadly, I don’t recall ever returning to the pool after that incident.

A Cautious Reacquaintance with Water

Fast forward many years later to the summer of 2011 when I decided to finally go back for another go at learning to swim with confidence and proficiency — and to tread water, all because of being sidelined last summer by a running-related injury and a determination to preserve my hard-earned cardiorespiratory fitness.

I can still remember that first Friday evening last summer when I tentatively slipped into the shallow end of my community pool. Why is it that pools are always so uninvitingly cold upon initial immersion? I recall the two young, teen-age (or so I thought) lifeguards confidently sitting sentry on their chairs, and how they would generously dispense stroke improvement tips to the eager, mostly novice or average-ability swimmers in the pool, a motley assortment of parents with their young children or toddlers, a few teenagers, some senior citizens, and me. Flutterboard-shod, I stayed close to the wall that night, but did venture partway into the deep end under the watchful eye of the lifeguard. My ankle, wrapped securely in Kinesio tape, was a curious enough accessory to behold as to prompt an inquiry from one of the lifeguards. We engaged in a chat about possible differential diagnoses for my injury, along with my long hiatus from the pool, my fear of the deep end, etc. I remember how reassured I felt when the lifeguards asserted that I would have nothing to fear under their watch. One of them also encouraged me to don a pair of goggles whenever I came to the pool for a swim. He explained that I might feel less anxious about the water if I could open my eyes and see where I was actually going. He was right.

The Comfort and Characters of the Fishbowl

After a few more drop-in visits to this modest community pool, a certain comfort with the staff, the facilities, and the other swimmers began to develop. I decided to commit to this pool and took out a 3-month membership. For the rest of that summer, my non-running fitness routine would consist of daily cycling and visits to the pool 3-4 times per week or more; my ankle tolerated this regimen well. In the process, I had become something of a regular at the pool, recognizing, and often chatting with, other regulars. This pool felt comfortable; it felt like my pool. I renewed my membership and my routine continued through the fall, winter, and spring, replacing the cycling with some cross-country skiing in the winter.

My imagination being what it is, it was inevitable that I would start to create visual stories or character sketches in my head about some of the other swimmers at the pool. This mental storyboard game I would play also proved to be an effective distraction strategy, increasing my comfort in the water by turning my thoughts away from the water, itself.

Cast of Characters

Inspector Clouseau was a year-round mustachioed (not just for Movember) swimmer, whom I could always count on to release a torrent of water over the lane buoys that separated us as he thrashed his way past me down the Fast lane. He was constantly working on his arms, wearing a flotation device between his legs so he wouldn’t have to kick.

Gargle-Mel was a member of the senior water-walkers crowd, who bore an uncanny resemblance to an old boss of mine. I always knew when he was in the water before actually seeing him because of the distinctive gargling sounds he would make underwater, which I would hear from a lane away as he trotted up and down the deep end with his flotation belt cinched to his waist.

A couple of times, I crossed paths with scowl-faced Maxine, who reminded me of her grumpy elderly doppelganger of greeting card fame. Maxine would often swim next to me in the leisure lane, and would lambaste me for any amount of splash I might inadvertently kick up from my powerful lower limb outboard motor.

The Indomitable Frogman was a weekend fixture in the pool. He always distinguished himself by his alarmingly nude color swim trunks and, despite his advanced age and glacial breast stroke pace, was either completely oblivious or didn’t give a whit about the traffic jams he would routinely trigger behind and beside him as a queue of swimmers (including me & my flutter board) successively manoeuvred (or leap-frogged) their way past him…

Wednesday evening swims were among the busiest sessions at my community pool, where accomplished, fit swimmers could often be seen chasing or racing each other in the Fast and Very Fast lanes. Wearing goggles was a must because of all the splashing, thrashing, and churning of water. On some nights, the water could become so rough that I had the impression of swimming in the open water free-for-all of a triathlon.

Among the talented Wednesday night swimmers were a couple, The Great White Shark Lady and her husband/partner, Scuba Steve. I was forever baffled as to why the Shark Lady would always opt to swim in the Medium lane when she so clearly belonged in the Fast lane. When she entered the pool’s waters, she would inevitably swim circles (figuratively-speaking) around everyone else in the Medium lane seemingly without breaking a sweat or exceeding her resting respiratory rate. Scuba Steve, on the other hand, was a regular in the Very Fast lane with the other hard-core swimmers, including some strong women. I felt like I was at Marineland watching a frisky dolphin as I admired Scuba Steve’s powerful flip-turns off the wall underwater as he progressed through his series of successive 25-m laps. I would always marvel at how he never misjudged his distance from the wall.

There were other interesting characters, as well, such as Waltzing Matilda who, like so many of the older adults in the pool without a swimmer physique per se, nonetheless seemed to just dance on water with her effortless, graceful interpretation of the breast stroke. She would almost certainly never break a sweat, looking more like a proper lady at a Victorian ball waltzing up and down the pool in her imaginary floor-length frock. 

One of the more fascinating characters to observe was The Amazing Flying Lake Trout. If I were going to cross paths with him, it would almost assuredly be during one of those busy Wednesday night sessions. His appearances were almost theatrical, with his grand entrance parading not one, not two, but three full-length towels, which he always carefully draped in parallel (like Patrick Bergin‘s character would’ve done in Sleeping with the Enemy) over the observation deck. Next, instead of beginning his lane swim in the shallow end as was customary at our pool, he would walk over to the deep end, greet the lifeguard on duty, and then unceremoniously launch himself from the deck like a WWE wrestler atop the ropes in the ring executing his finishing move — in this case, a sort of bouncy butterfly stroke into the Medium or Fast lane. The tidal wave generated from his entry and subsequent pounding, single fin-like kick of his feet had the effect of clearing the lane in which he was swimming, as the other swimmers quickly strategically switched lanes or waited for the tsunami to pass before continuing their work-out. The energy that the Flying Lake Trout would’ve expended with his inefficient stroke must have been considerable, which made it all the more remarkable how he was able to swim a series of brisk 25-m laps before taking a break.

Sauna-Addiction-Lady, by contrast, was not a swimmer that I could tell, but she would always come to the pool on Saturday afternoons with her swimming family. While her husband and children frolicked in the pool, she would disappear into the wooden, poolside sauna shack, spending an inordinate amount of time luxuriating inside. One weekend afternoon, she emerged so completely red-faced and dehydrated that I thought she was going to faint. A couple of ladies were concerned enough to offer her water, despite her protestations and assurances that she was fine. Personally, I do not understand the allure of the sauna and the desire to make oneself dripping hot, but then I also do not understand Bikram yoga or people who choose to take their vacations in tropical areas. I chock it up to being a Nordic girl, but maybe I am part amphibian…

And then there was Mr. Even-Though-I’m-Old-Enough-To-Be-Your-Father-I-Can-Still-Rock-A-Speedo…  Why is it that men of a certain age — those nearing or at retirement age, who still hit the health club — seek to attract the attention of women at least 25 years their junior? What’s wrong with pursuing more age-appropriate women? Having had enough unwanted, poolside encounters with said men, I’m seriously starting to wonder a) how old I actually look and b) what kind of unintended signals I may be giving off. One such awkward encounter occurred last spring with an older man, whom I initially thought was just engaging in friendly, professional chit chat about our common industry. So when I agreed to go for coffee one afternoon, I did so on the assumption that it would be for professional networking. The thought that he might have been interested in me never crossed my mind as he was clearly old enough to be my father. However, when I began the conversation with an animated analysis of where I thought the industry was headed, Mr. Speedo’s true intentions were suddenly and awkwardly revealed when he interrupted my diatribe, lamenting how we always seemed to talk about work… [For the record, just in case there was any uncertainty on the subject, Speedos should be outlawed for all but competitive male divers, such as Alexandre Despatie.]

What It Will Take for this Aspiring Fish to Earn her Fins

To finally become a swimmer, I am going to need to find the right instructor and the right pool. Someone patient and creative, and perhaps with a gift for psychology. In particular, someone who knows how to teach and work with adults, which is not the same as teaching and working with kids. Kids are fearless and mostly uncomplicated, more apt to bounce back from setbacks.

In the meantime, until my community pool reopens, I will keep exposing myself to deep water at the university pool while dodging stray basketballs. It may also be time to leverage that analytical brain of mine and check out a couple of well-reviewed books on swimming (Conquer Your Fear of  Water by Melon Dash and Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton).

A Walk Amid the Beautiful Autumn Leaves: Thanksgiving Weekend in Maritime Canada

After returning from a three-week, whirlwind, action-packed trip to Europe, where I visited London, Oxford, Paris, the Loire Valley, Heidelberg, Cologne, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, a weekend respite during this Thanksgiving weekend seemed in order.

There is nothing like a stay in the Maritimes — Canada’s east coast jewel — to recharge and relax amid a slower pace of living, expansive, still largely untouched natural spaces (including forests and beaches), and of course, renowned Maritime hospitality. Fall is also a magical time of year for running, second only to the season of winter, in my opinion. This past Thanksgiving weekend, I was thankful to be staying in the home of my childhood — that of my parents— just steps from our much beloved nature park, where I had spent many happy years running and cross-country skiing, among other outdoor pursuits. Knowing the forest would be awash in color this time of year, I looked forward in eager anticipation to lacing up my trail sneakers and getting outside for a meditative run through these woods to contemplate nature and its brilliant autumn hues on display.

Having grown up in the Maritimes, returning is always a homecoming of sorts, even though much has changed since those youthful, care-free days as a child spent playing outdoors with friends during cool, fall afternoons, raking huge bales of fallen, red and golden maple leaves to alternatively jump into or throw at each other.

Fall has always been my favourite time of year.  The air is crisp and cool, not subtropically hot and humid as is becoming so disturbingly typical of summers in central Canada. It signals the beginning of the new academic year, the restarting of activities and clubs that were on hiatus during the lazy summer months. The release of new films and books. The always stylish and plentiful offering of fall fashions, especially the shoes and boots. Concerts, conferences, work-related travel opportunities. Pumpkins, Hallowe’en, farmers’ markets. Earlier nightfalls, frosty mornings. Silvery moons and twinkling stars. Cozy fires and wood smoke that permeates the night air. Flannel blankets, goose-down comforters, and chilly night breezes rustling the branches and leaves and  blowing at the drapes through a partially open bedroom window — delicious sleeping weather.

In the fall, the leaves change from lush greens to a canopy of rich yellows, oranges, and reds, which are reflected in the surrounding lakes, rivers, and canals like an Impressionist painting, gradually falling off the trees along with the pine needles to the canal paths and wooded trails creating a soft, sometimes crunchy Klimt-esque like tapestry on which to walk, run, or cycle.

I had initially thought, when I set out on my early-ish Sunday morning run that I would complete my loops around the serpentine trails first and then take pictures afterward. However, the combination of colors and lighting was too beguiling and so I acquiesced to my photographic muse, pausing frequently and pulling out my compact Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot camera in a sort of Sysyphean or Monet-like attempt to capture Nature in its ever-changing, elusive light. The morning light gradually giving way to clouds, I put away my camera and happily completed my trail run, enjoying all the sensory delights of the forest, especially the fragrance of fresh pine trees after an overnight rain.

After visiting so many opulent castles and beautiful, ornate churches in Europe,  my re-acquaintance with our breath-taking Canadian landscape and scenery — found even in the greater backyard of my parents — reminded me of how blessed we are as a people to be living in a country as beautiful and as geographically diverse as Canada. In a continent where millions of people must reside in such close proximity to each other, often tolerating high levels of pollution and limited access to natural spaces,  it is a gift that as Canadians we are able to so accessibly enjoy clean air and the natural beauty of our country both inside and outside our national and provincial park systems.

And yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of parks in this country and the myriad opportunities to discover, explore, and play in our giant, natural playground, we don’t. Not really. Sure, there are many of us who do on a regular basis, myself included. So often, however, we choose to stay indoors, preferring to hunker down or cocoon during the fall and winter months watching television, playing video games, or engaging with social media for hours at a time, instead of nurturing our physical and spiritual selves by embracing our outdoors and this invigorating time of year. Our European counterparts envy our natural spaces and our ease of access to them. I have no doubt that they could teach us a few things about appreciating our land.

Interestingly, Europeans also seem to invest far less time idling in front of the screen; I was astounded by how many people I met in Europe, who did not own a television. Unlike large sections of our country, which were built around the automobile, European cities are, by comparison, a walker’s and cyclist’s paradise, whose infrastructure and esthetic seem purposefully organized around human power supported by a modern, efficient public transit system and extensive national rail networks, largely obviating the need for car ownership. That is not to say that Europeans have all the answers. The prevalence of smoking remains maddeningly high and still quite socially acceptable in contrast to Canada. When it comes to exercise and active living, however, it was striking to me and to my brother who had visited Europe before me, just how fit and spry Europe’s senior citizens seemed to be. When I arrived in the Netherlands, for example, my great aunt who walks with a cane, rushed in to greet me at the train station and insisted on helping me carry my heavy luggage! Her husband also maintains an active lifestyle, cycling daily several kilometers with an outdoor cycle group and playing golf. Again, not to say that we do not have active seniors in our country, but I think it is fair to say that more often than not, our aged-matched seniors are generally not so physically strong and active, likely a product of our sedentary North American way of living. I would suspect, too, that many of these same European senior citizens are also fitter than many of our Canadian parents and middle-age adults.

I think our country has forgotten how to play in our great outdoors. It’s time we started stepping outside more often. Whether it be for a walk, a bike ride, or a jog. Make it a family thing, if you’re a parent. Recreation is not just for the kids; your kids look to you as the role model, so get off the couch and get outdoors. Help them develop a lifelong love of the outdoors and being active. It’s fun — you’ll see, and it’s healthy. Step outside. Inhale that fresh, fall air. Jump in the leaves. Take out your bike. Embrace that inner child. Start somewhere. Just start.

Dragon boat team racing: An Ottawa summer rite of passage

Ottawa has often been called a small big city. As a national capital, it is also a government town, where you or someone you know most certainly works for the public service. This can make the city rather stuffy at times, and then there’s summer with its extreme heat and humidity, and frequent risk of severe thunderstorms (which scare the crap out of me!)… [At least, Ottawa is THE place to be for Canada Day celebrations! ;-)]

Canada Day 2011: Crowds gather by the thousands on Parliament Hill to greet Prince William and Kate Middleton, Ottawa

Despite being a self-identified Nordic girl, myself, where cool temps and low humidity (and in winter, lots of snow! :-)) feature among my ideal climatic conditions for thriving, I have to confess summer in Ottawa is  beginning to grow on me. (Especially now that I live in a place with air conditioning — a must during the sultry days of summer in Central Canada.)

This will make my 4th summer as a resident of Ottawa; however, this year, instead of my annual pilgrimage (or more aptly, “escape”) back east to weeks of (usually) cool ocean breezes, salty air, and relaxed living in the Maritimes, I am spending the bulk of my summer in Ottawa owing to the fact I will be traveling to Europe in the fall, thus deferring my holiday time.

Swimmers bathing on a beach in Fundy National Park, Alma, New Brunswick

On guard along the ruggedly beautiful coastline of Lawrencetown Beach, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia

The waters of the Atlantic Ocean churning up a storm on Lawrencetown Beach for the surfers, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia

If you are someone who longs for the return of those wintry days of cross-country skiing in the hills of Gatineau Park like me, it becomes essential (i.e., a matter of mental survival) to find a way to embrace summer as you do the cooler seasons. Summer is not going anywhere and the planet is only getting hotter, so the best way to beat the heat is to learn to like it, or at least, adapt to it.

To this end, I decided to try something different this year. Paddling. Specifically, dragon boating.

Friday night paddling at the Rideau Canoe Club, Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

Saturday morning regatta at the Rideau Canoe Club, Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

I am an avid athlete and previously (exclusively) hard-core runner (until I got injured and had to change up my training plan to usher in a long overdue age of cross-training). Despite not being a bona fide swimmer just yet (though this is still a work in progress), I have always had a special affinity for the water. Likely this is partly explained by genetics (nature), as someone who was born and raised in the Maritimes. And, maybe partly an environmental (nurture) influence as I have fond memories of care-free days spent by the seashore as a young child at the family cottage.

Watching the boats from the dock at the Rideau Canoe Club, Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

In my mission to embrace, or at least shake hands with, our notoriously steamy Ottawa summer season, I figured taking up paddling would allow me to build my core in a fun way (since I hate gyms), introduce me to new people I might not otherwise meet, and give me that connection with the water I crave. I had never really dragon boated before unless you count the one time three years ago when I was a last-minute alternate for a team that a running friend of mine (a steerer) was on. It had been a favor (or desperate plea?) since they needed someone in a pinch, and I was thought to be a good bet because of my aerobic fitness. [BTW, a full dragon boat crew comprises 20 paddlers plus the steersperson and the drummer, so it can be a challenge recruiting enough consistently, committed people. The boat, itself is a slim, 44-foot racer that seems to almost fly or hover above the water when great technique, timing, teamwork, and athleticism combine.] I ended up having a blast being out on the calm, sheltered waters of Mooney’s Bay under a beautiful, silvery moon during that warm summer evening. I had no technique, however, and didn’t realize that this team was actually a competitive, well-oiled machine, just days away from the big race. I think I probably splashed the guy seated in front of me with my awkward paddling a bit too much; fortunately, my relative, sometimes out-of-sync contribution could be absorbed by the predominant strength and synchronicity of the other seasoned crew members. [Interestingly — and perhaps, not surprisingly — I was not invited back to this team!? :-(]

Dragon boat teams practising on Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

In Ottawa, paddling is a hugely popular sport among both competitive and non-competitive athletes. My theory for this much-loved activity is that there is just something innate, viscerally compelling, even spiritual about water and our attraction to it. To revel in its space. To contemplate. To connect. And in the case of the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival in Ottawa this weekend — to compete, or at least to have fun being on a team and giving it your best.

Team “Draggin’ Blades” relaxing before the morning’s first race at the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

One of the main paths through the site; bikes, as the popular mode of transportation, could be found everywhere since there was no parking at the event

Display of personalized paddles from one of the more hard-core competitive dragon boat teams, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

Members of “The Gladiators” dragon boat team, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

The relatively short, outdoor paddle season in Ottawa  is a tease, however, running usually from May to October. Among our boating and paddling clubs, we have two venerable ones located within the city: the Rideau Canoe Club overlooking Mooney’s Bay in the southwest part of Ottawa and the host of the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival, and the Ottawa Rowing Club — the oldest rowing club in Canada, boasting Sir John A. Macdonald (the first Prime Minister of Canada and founding father of Confederation) as its inaugural club president — located just below Sussex Drive in the tony neighborhood of Rockcliffe Park. I was wondering why the TH Dragon Boat Festival doesn’t rotate sites between the RCC and the ORC, but then I remembered that the relatively open, Ottawa River that serves as the waterway for the ORC can be quite rough compared to the usually gentle waters of Mooney’s Bay; as a result, the average paddler who frequents the ORC is probably fairly skilled in negotiating challenging water conditions and is necessarily an accomplished swimmer.  [For a great article on rowing and the Ottawa Rowing Club, check out “Where Water Moonlights as Soul – Five Scenes from the Ottawa Rowing Club” by Jamieson Findlay and Harry Nowell in Ottawa Magazine.]

Watching a crew return to the docks from their heat, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

The Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival is the premier event held every June on Mooney’s Bay, and is the race that most non-elite athletes and recreational paddlers in Ottawa train for. It is the largest dragon boat festival in North America with over 200 boats entered in the weekend’s races. This year marks the 19th edition of this non-profit, charity event with an expected attendance of 75,000 (including 5,000 paddlers) over its three days of competition and entertainment.

Hundreds of team tents or campsites lined Mooney’s Bay Park along the shore, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

As you may have gauged by now, dragon boating is something of a subculture in Ottawa, much like that of Ultimate Frisbee (the allure of which I never really understood). Although people of all ages, sizes, and cultures participate in dragon boating, there is a preponderance of university-aged kids and newly-minted 20-something grads who make up the majority of crews. Women, in particular, seem to be drawn to the sport (there are several breast cancer survivor and/or fundraising crews), but encouragingly, quite a few guys can be found within the mixed team crews. Since there is a certain amount of power and muscular endurance required to be a competitive crew, having a number of guys on your team is a definite asset in mixed competitions. [Note to the guys: You might be wise to look at dragon boating as not just an opportunity for a great core work-out on water, but also as a chance to meet nice, (usually attractive), fit women; one of my good girl-friends, in fact, met her husband through a dragon boat team and they are engaged to be married this summer.]

Because most people seem to be veteran dragon boaters, the newbies (and few who don’t already belong to a team) must sign up on a wait list on the Rideau Canoe Club’s website and then bide their time to be contacted by teams in need of extra members. There are recreational crews for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced-level crews; although I was tempted to at least indicate “intermediate” on my application since I am athletic and a quick learner, I knew my strength was in my lower body, so I convinced myself to err on the side of “beginner” so as to not overpromise on my skills and risk under-delivering on my performance. [If you’ve read any of my previous posts, risk aversion is unfortunately a recurring theme for me.] The accepted trade-off, of course, is that a recreationally-focused crew may not be as aerobically fit as me, nor as competitive.

Pumped to paddle

Mixed crew getting ready to board their boat at the dock

I ended up joining a semi-experienced team called the Draggin’ Blades, who had recruited a few extra walk-ons to fill the spots left vacant by some of the past year’s crew. We had a weekly practice schedule of Friday nights on Mooney’s Bay with an experienced steersperson/coach. [I was surprised and delighted to learn that when you sign up for a dragon boat crew, your registration fee — which is very reasonable — includes the cost of coaching.] Our coach was great: very organized in her coaching plan for each practice, positive and extremely patient. We learned how to paddle properly, then how to paddle in sync with each other, then with tempo, all while building up muscular endurance and having fun out on the water.

We were not so fortunate with the weather, however, for our first few practice nights. On what was to be our second night out on the water as a team, we were preempted by a vicious thunderstorm, in which an 18-year-old boy was tragically struck and killed by lightning as he took momentary shelter under a tree in a nearby park, not far from Mooney’s Bay.

The week following, we had a torrential downpour (fortunately, not accompanied by a thunderstorm), but the practice proceeded nonetheless, albeit shy a full crew. Oddly enough, I enjoyed this practice. True, we got absolutely soaked to the skin, despite rain gear, but it reminded me of my days of hard-core training as a runner in Montreal when I would once in a while get caught in monsoon-like rain. These are the character-building training sessions. And, there is an unmistakable sense of pride and accomplishment — and noticeable boost in positive energy — that invariably accompanies the completion of a tough training session characterized by less-than-ideal conditions. Such character-building sessions always remind me of the famous World War II morale-boosting slogan created by the British government, that is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, particularly in Ottawa: Keep Calm and Carry On.

After a grueling set of practices last week (one of which was a make-up for that earlier thunderstorm) and our last one this past Friday night, we were ready to throw down the gauntlet on Saturday at the TH Dragon Boat Festival.

Boys will be boys: Several guys – not sure if drunkenness was a factor – decided to go for a post-race swim in the Bay

Our first race was to be at 11h50 with staging at 11h20. Because the race is a massive undertaking, eight teams at a time are asked to ‘stage’ or line up in a corral-like area as another eight proceed to their assigned docks. While these 16 teams are in a holding pattern on shore, another eight teams are out on the water at, or making their way, to the starters’ blocks for their 500-metre ‘heat’. Approximately every 9 minutes, a race occurs until the entire field of 200 teams is processed. Each team gets two guaranteed races or heats on the Saturday: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The top 75 mixed teams and top 24 women’s teams advance to the final round on Sunday. [There are no all-men’s teams at this event.]

Waiting to enter the staging area

When I arrived on the scene at Mooney’s Bay Park an hour ahead of our race, I was met by a sea of tents and campsites (often creatively decorated), and thousands of people milling about. It was like a dragon boat version of Woodstock or a huge frosh week event at a major Canadian university. It was great! The excitement in the air was palpable (and audible) as paddlers proudly clad in their team colors and various accoutrements could be found rallying their respective teams with cheers, performing group stretching exercises in an open section of field, or sitting contentedly in a big circle on lawn chairs socializing and chilling out (and hydrating) before or after their race.

Since this was my first time participating in this event, I wasn’t sure what kind of secure storage options would be available if any, so I erred on the side of caution (i.e., the case of no secure storage), making sure that everything I brought I could wear. [Hopefully, I adopt a similar, minimalist strategy when I have to pack for Europe!] This meant cycling to the event with my PFD (personal flotation device) securely fastened to my body. [As Stacy London would say, everything was “locked and loaded” to the point I could hardly breathe!?] I couldn’t help but feel particularly ridiculous as — in order to plan on the possibility of no secure storage area — I purposefully left my bike helmet at home. So there I was, riding along the canal paths at top speed with a life jacket on, but no helmet! People must have thought I was nuts. Knowing where my priorities lay, I did manage to squeeze my tiny, compact purple, point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot into the tightly zipped compartment of my diaphragm-crushingly tight PFD, however. (I was determined to ensure I would remain afloat should our boat capsize, so I cinched that thing pretty freakin’ tight!? I won’t get into all the issues I had with PFD-inflicted chafing. Suffice it to say, it will likely be comfortable to wear when the weather is suitable for long sleeves and possibly a turtleneck sweater.)

CIBC breast cancer survivors/research fundraising crew. Love the ballerina tutu!

Old school-dressed ice cream vendors, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

After spending some time wandering with my camera across the grounds, taking in the carnival-like atmosphere, it was finally time for our team’s first race. We assembled in the ‘corral’ as the race officials took attendance and the teams rallied their crew with cheers, and then proceeded to Dock 5 before heading out on the water for our heat.

Staging area: Eight teams await the green light to proceed to the docks

At the docks: choosing our paddles and putting on our PFDs before boarding our boat

Boarding our boat for the race

All aboard and ready to paddle off to the starting line buoys

I was seated on the left side near the back of the boat. We began with a short warm-up of light, easy strokes then a series of 3 x 5 power strokes followed by our race pace. We then settled into our lane, hunched forward with paddles across our knees in the ‘set’ position waiting for the “Ready! Ready!” cry from our caller/drummer and then the official “Attention, please!” from the race marshal on the floating dock to our right. The final signal to go was the starter’s gun. And bang! We got off to a powerful, fast start, slicing our way through the water with our blades. All you could hear was the sound of the water against the paddles [it’s really important to avoid the dreaded kerplunk! sound, which is akin to executing a belly-flop in the pool versus a graceful dive] and the yelling by each boat’s drummer, calling out the strokes. At about 1/4 of the way into this 500-metre race, we were suddenly and unexpectedly (at least to those of us on the left side of the boat) broad-sided by an aberrant boat from the lane to our right. I wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen next. Were we done? Did we just pick up and go? Some of us had stopped paddling completely, not wanting to ram the boat further while others continued their strokes. It felt like an eternity, but then our trusty coach/steersperson piped up authoritatively and told us to keep going. And boy, did we ever have to kick into high gear! We essentially had to repeat our start from a dead stop and rebuild the momentum we had accrued prior to the collision. We were well behind the leaders, but then something very cool happened. We started really accelerating. Powering our way through the water to catch up and pass not one, not two, but three boats! Of course, as a paddler, you must keep your eyes on the person in front and beside you at all times to ensure synchronicity of strokes (and maximum efficiency), and so as a back-end paddler I missed this drama in real-time, only hearing about it post-race. We ended up placing a very respectable third place in our heat, and were especially energized (as were our drummer and steerer) by our incredible mid-course comeback. This was definitely a character-building race, and we were excited about what we could do in our second race, having finished this heat well despite the initial setback and critical loss of time.

A fleet of dragon boats coming into dock, leaving dock, or finishing their heat

Instead of hanging out at the venue all afternoon until our next race — admittedly, mostly because I had no desire to use those port-a-potties! — I opted to bike back home for lunch since I only live 15 minutes away by bike and knew I had some delicious pasta salad with chicken waiting for me to replenish my glycogen stores. 🙂

Our next race was to be at the end of the afternoon at 17h10, so I made my way back to the site for 16h00. It was a long break spent lounging around or relaxing until our next heat. I had some concerns that maybe we wouldn’t be pumped enough for our next race, where you are matched against crews with similar times from the morning’s races. As before, we made our way through the staging area or corral and then down to the docks. Interestingly, this time, we were told by our assigned dock’s marshal that we were going to be on a ‘lucky’ boat, which had apparently enjoyed a disproportionate number of wins this day. She seemed so sure of her prediction, as to almost dismiss the possibility that ‘her’ boat would not come out on top again. It appeared she had issued us a challenge, perhaps there was even money riding on this particular boat, like a great thoroughbred racehorse favored to win at the Belmont Stakes.

Post-race debrief after leaving the dock area

Post-race walk off the docks: You either saw the triumphant strut or the silent march, depending on how teams fared

With a few last-minute switches — I had noticed during the first race that the woman behind me had a longer reach than I did and so had asked her to swap seats with me, and then I swapped again with the woman beside me so that I could be on what was probably my ‘natural’ , more powerful (right) side — we were ready to throw down the gauntlet again.

Spying another potentially rogue boat with dubious steering [having an experienced steerer, I learned, is so important!], we made it our goal to go out hard at the start to pass them so we would not have to concern ourselves with the possibility of another mid-race collision. We got settled into our assigned lane, crouched low and forward with paddles across our knees in the ‘set’ position, and waited expectantly. “Ready! Ready!”… “Attention, please!” Bang! We were off like a Jamaican sprinter out of the blocks (or so I like to imagine it this way).  We began with the usual set of six powerful start-up strokes — 1/2, 3/4 , full, full, full, full — landing them like a polished, competitive diver making a splashless, rip entry into the pool. Then it was 3 sets of 5 powerful strokes with blade completely buried below the water’s surface. The familiar 5-4-3-2-1 countdown (or mnemonic of “start-to reach it out”) next led us into our race pace rhythm of long, consistent high-cadence strokes that we had to sustain until the last 75-metres of the race, at which point, we would throw down for one final sprint to the finish line. This race felt like higher stakes than the first. The effort also felt harder and longer than the first race. Our drummer and steerer urged us on repeatedly and excitedly, shouting louder as we began to gain on the leader boats and subsequently began passing them one by one. We were almost to the finish line; it was then time to give it everything we had left in the tank. We dug in, and ripped our blades through the water for one final push. It was enough: we clinched first place in our second heat in dramatic fashion — another come-from-behind effort, and another victory for boat # 2. Our soothsayer at dock # 2 had been correct in her prediction all along and greeted us with genuine happiness as we paddled over to the dock to disembark and make way for the next team.

When we exited the boat, we were regaled with a recap of our performance as seen from the shore by one of our teammates’ friends. Apparently, we had been an exciting boat to watch as we ‘made our (tactical) move’ to surge ahead, all chronicled from the shore by the British announcer over the loudspeaker. We were told that our power and acceleration was clearly visible from the shore. [Why can’t there by an instant replay?? Or, a big screen to show the highlights of the race to the completing teams once they clear the dock zone?]

Despite our strong and exciting racing performance, we unfortunately did not qualify among the top 75 mixed teams for the Sunday finals. Normally, I would be disappointed by this outcome, as a very competitive person, but I wasn’t. I knew we had had two really good races and shown a lot of character coming back as strongly as we did after that collision in the first race.

Maybe I’m not just an individual-sports person afterall. Who knew dragon boating could be so much fun while still being competitive? I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful new summer sport for me…

Team “Draggin’ Blades” all smiles before their first race

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