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Racing the Dragon Boat This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

When I was seven, I poked myself with two needles to prove that I wasn't afraid of blood since I wanted to be a doctor one day. When I was nine, I was adamant about dropping out of school and kicking off my music career by touring with Britney Spears. When I turned 11, my hopes of climbing Mount Everest and singing at Carnegie Hall became just a bit more real when I wrote them down in a journal. With each new idea, I would look out the window at the world, praying that my dreams might some day be realized. But while I was busy making plans, life held a different path for me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer before my fourteenth birthday. Soon after, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. At the time of her operation, the doctor found cancer in her lungs. I always knew that there might be hard times ahead, but I was not prepared for this. To say that the situation was unfair seemed like an understatement. Medical bills piled up, and my parents' emotional strength was taxed. I quit my afterschool activities and worked three jobs to support them. As a sophomore, I was already forgetting about my dreams; I was just trying to survive.

It could have been a chance encounter, but one cold day in February, I found myself in a room filled with strangers and dumbbells. I remember that day clearly. I smelled a whiff of strawberries, and turned to face Irene, a veteran junior on a dragon boat racing crew team from Queens, N.Y. She told me that if I decided to join the team, I wouldn't regret it.

Dragon boats are traditional Chinese long boats paddled by a crew. Joining the team was probably the smartest decision I ever made. I've made so many friends who encourage me every day. What inspires me the most is the intensity of my teammates when they are paddling. There's this effervescent calm on their faces before they start a drill or race. Suddenly, they become warriors ready to attack the water with blade-like paddles. Seeing how focused my team is, I try to replicate their passion when I paddle, and that ideal has transferred into my life, especially in school.

Due to my family's personal issues, I never had much time to focus on schoolwork. My grades were always about an 85. Since I've joined the team, I've learned to focus on any task before me, especially schoolwork. As a result, my average has risen to a 96, placing me in the top 10 percent in my major – a feat that I never believed possible.

Dragon boating has also shown me that although it's important to be independent, it's okay to ask for help. I've experienced many hardships, and I coped by acting like nothing was wrong.

About a month ago, a friend of mine passed away at 17. We had just completed one of my goals – to perform at Carnegie Hall – and all of a sudden, the principal told me that he was dead. After the funeral, I went straight to practice, but I felt my armor cracking. I wanted to cry but couldn't bear the thought of anyone seeing me. One adult team member, Justin, noticed and spent the rest of the night as my crutch. He barely knew me, but he bought me tacos and talked me through the situation. The kindness that my teammates have displayed has taught me how to be kind and sensitive to others.

Every day I am with my team, whether during practice, hanging out, or preparing for a competition, there's always a lesson I can apply to other parts of my life. Still trying to perfect my form, I undergo tedious drills to strengthen my upper body and polish my technique. The more I practiced, the more that racing competitively became a possibility. I now find myself attempting to conquer the impossible – to compete in the Club Crew World Championships.

Dragon boating hasn't just made me a better athlete, but a better man. I used to be so scared of losing life that I was not able to live it. Through this sport, I've experienced many adventures, from meeting new people to competing on different obstacle courses. Leaving my comfort zone is what keeps me excited for more. After all, a dragon boat in the docks may be safe, but that is not what dragon boats are built for.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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