The summer is almost done and its been an epic one in terms of travels, recovery, fun and work. One of the personal highlights came about a month ago when I was teaching my kids to SUP (stand up paddle board). During a break in their lesson, we noticed orcas (killer whales) surface in the distance. Without hesitation my daughter and I took a paddle out for a closer look and were rewarded with a very humbling experience. It reminded me of my past adventure(s) and how truly insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of the world and nature. Being on the water at any level, whether with a paddle, oar or fishing rod in hand has been a therapy of sorts.
It’s safe to say the emotion that was my inability to fulfill my adventure through to completion has subsided. Has it gone away? No. But like a throbbing bruise, with enough time, focus shifts and the pain becomes less. In its place has come empowerment and awareness. The cause that row4autism represents and stands behind continues to open eyes and raise eyebrows, and rightfully so. My desire and drive to finish what I started is not dampened but I’ve surprised even myself with how well received the project has been and the interest it has generated.
The most recent example of this was a couple weeks ago when I attended the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival with my daughter Mya. If you’ve never been but enjoy all things maritime and have a love for craftsmanship and boats, this is your mecca.
I was intending to take part in the Bainbridge Island Half Marathon Rowing Race but due to illness on the home front, the balance of my family was unable to join me – which meant having my daughter in the boat with me, something the race director would not allow for fear of swamping. Nevertheless, the actual festival itself was staging a local rowing race put on by the Rat Island Rowing Club. I was elated as this meant not having to venture far from the festival grounds and still being able to include my daughter in the race as there was no exception to her riding shotgun with me – which meant sitting in an open hatch 😉
The course was about 5km and something in me knew that as a race it was pretty insignificant, but for my own inner desires I wanted to test myself. All entry categories started at the same time. There were stand up paddle boards, single fixed and sliding seat rigs, doubles, four’s and eight person teams in larger boats.
A couple in a double sliding seat rig starting to my starboard side was well focused. We exchanged pleasantries but it was clear to me they were all business. This was perfect. In a variety of sports disciplines, training partners or pace partners are the norm. They provide a visual target and drive and help push oneself to keep going all the while creating a silent competition. Unbeknownst to them, these two were mine. The challenge they represented were all the things that flooded my mind in the final moments that was my last official day on the water back in May. I knew the deck was stacked as they were two and I was one, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The realist in me knew I didn’t stand a chance to finish ahead of them, but the dreamer coaxed me to try. And why not? It’s better to challenge your limits than to limit your challenges.
With both my oars planted into what is termed the ‘catch’ position, I awaited the sound of the starters gun. My legs were strapped in, flexed and ready to transfer all of my energy into the bottoms of my feet. BANG! I pressed back with my legs, back and arms and felt as the oar blades stressed as I pulled on their grips and the boat started to move forward. There was a confused sensation and familiarity that clouded my mind. It felt right and it felt good. Many of the 4+ person teams passed us by, but I kept up with the duo for about the first half before conceding that they simply had more horsepower than me.
Mya was my navigator. Having her steer us with commands meant I did not have to turn around and lose power in my strokes. I asked that she guide us close to the course markers (buoys) and on the first turn she set us up wide. We passed with what I felt was too much room. I wanted it tighter. Tighter because a second boat with a team of two was gaining on us. My daughter turned to look at them as we rounded the first buoy and I said to her “Keep us tight to the next one because they are not going to pass us.” Her reply was simple and unknowingly questioning my chivalry “But daddy, they’re women!”. “No matter, we are all equals.” came my reply.
As it stood, we rounded the second buoy so tight that the starboard oar hit it as we passed. This was the home stretch except now we were pointed towards land and the buoys blended in with the background. Mya had a difficult time spotting the next one. I told her to keep us in line with the other boats but to keep looking for the marker. If we were having difficulty making them out on the horizon, then surely so were the others. This became evident as the boats astern of us, including the duo that we were trying to stay ahead of, began turning to starboard, clearly confusing the finish line marker as the turn 3 buoy. We kept on course and soon made a line for the finish.
We took first place in the single sliding seat category and I stood back, lost in the crowd as the boat’s name, Ocean’s Soul was announced and I encouraged Mya to walk up and accept our certificate. It was priceless as the crowd clapped but scanned faces looking for who was most likely the propulsion behind the boat. No matter, this wasn’t about any one individual and certainly not me. It was about camaraderie, rowing as a sport and simply being one with the ocean and enjoying the culture that the weekend represented. What was most telling was hearing people wonder which boat it was, and hearing somebody respond “It was the yellow autism boat.” This on its own was satisfying. It mattered to no one but me, and that was ok. It was a moral band aid, arguably a moral victory that simply brought back a said level of unity with the sea, with myself, with the boat and with the cause. It was really a race against myself, and it had nothing to do with winning or losing.
The boat lay on the beach for the weekend as a static display. Given it is an Angus Rowboats design, and they were at the festival marketing their latest boat, the Rowcruiser, http://www.rowcruiser.com/RowCruiser!/Introducing_the_RowCruiser.html it made sense to have ours there. It drew a lot of interest for several reasons, but no matter what the question or comment, the desire to understand row4autism and autism in general always factored into the many conversations had that weekend. And that is what this has always been about.
With fall upon us in a week, the Canucks Autism Network http://www.canucksautism.ca/ is in full swing with their program offerings. With them will come more opportunities to continue the filming portion of the project. Its rewarding to know and see how immediate things come together given their desire to see our initiative through to completion. They are a fantastic group and I encourage you to visit their website to see all that they have to offer to individuals with autism.