Little Drummer Girl, Part 1

My second season of dragon boating started out with a nice surprise: We got new jerseys! And they were a big improvement on the old ones that were basic black with a small dragon on the left breast and our team name of the back. The new jerseys were mostly blue, with a large green dragon, and the logo from the Alameda City Flag.

Best of all, with the jersey I felt like a full-fledged member of the team.

The spring practices were going according to plan. After participating in the paddling clinic at the start of the season, I was confident about what worked and what didn’t work with my stroke, and I had a plan on how to improve. I was making one or two practices a week, despite a brush with hypothermia on a particularly cool evening.

But the day before the first Sprints race, coach Lisa Marie threw me a curve. As I was getting out of the boat after practice she said, “Would you mind drumming for me tomorrow?”

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I developed the utmost respect for drummers in my first racing season, so of course I was flattered. And I had no fear about the precarious drummer’s seat (a deterrent to many drummer candidates). But I don’t cope well with change on the fly, and I have no natural sense of rhythm.

But I couldn’t give up the chance, so I said I would be happy to try, but I would benefit from some practice. So Lisa Marie and I stayed for the 10:30 technical/new recruit practice so I could practice on the drum.

We don’t usually have the drum on the boat for practices, but before a race Dick and the other steerspeople drag it out of its home in Brett’s basement for a practice or two. While the drumming seat didn’t feel precarious, it was high and therefore conspicuous.

I hadn’t thought through the fact that in the drumming seat, by default I was kind of in charge of the boat since I was the only person all the paddlers could see. I thought Lisa Marie would take us out and at some point call for a race piece, and then I would drum the start. But no, once we got away from the dock, everyone was just looking at me, like ‘now what?’ Meanwhile, I kept hearing the voices of my piano teachers saying “you don’t know how to count!”

It was a bit of a hot mess. My fellow paddlers were kind, but I didn’t know what to do with them after counting a start. And I didn’t feel I had the expertise to come up with a plan. Several times I asked them if they wanted to take a break, which made Lisa Marie crazy frustrated. Not the way to demonstrate leadership.

Back at the dock, Lisa Marie recruited another would-be drummer (you should have at least two per race) who sat in the drummer’s chair at the dock, immediately projected a calm and controlling presence and was good to go. No practice on the water, no fretting, just good to go.  Some people are born leaders, some people have leadership thrust upon them, and some people, like me, want at least a two-year master course in leadership.

The next day at the race, Lisa Maria assigned the other would-be drummer to drum a race or two, but not me. Now, as it turned out, that was a good answer for me. Even if I had mastered drumming, the night before, one of my neighbors had had a medical emergency, and the EMT’s broke down his door and nearly shook my condo apart. I was up until 1:30 am talking to the EMT’s and the police. Not my normal pre-race routine of hydration and an early night.

Of course, Lisa Marie had no way of knowing about my lack of sleep. She was just looking for someone to drum (which is required in a race) and not spread fear or panic among the paddlers. That wasn’t me yet, but there was a month until the next race.