Harii Festival: DragonBoat Race Day 2016

I trained with these women for 4 months.

IMG_9702We did PT, rowed in a pool (at 5am), rowed in the really cold East China Sea (seriously…I know this is a sub tropical island, but that water was ICE most of the time), rowed in boats, rowed with the Japanese Air Defense Team…we laughed, we worked, we fought our bodies and we did not give up.


So going into race day, I was already fulfilled.  We were such a great team and I had so many wonderful memories and pictures.  And really, I didn’t care if we won or not because I was having SUCH a great time.

IMG_2066And my family was there.  My tribe, who watched me progress on this incredible journey; watched me struggle in the beginning; watched me work through pain and get stronger.  IMG_9672

Adam took the day off and brought the kids to the Harii Festival to “watch mommy row.” And it was so uplifting to have them there to share this with me.

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It was so invigorating to be a part of something cultural and ancient; something that has been a part of Okinawa for over 500 years.

So I didn’t really care if we won…


that we DID WIN!



So here’s the breakdown of the race: there are 2 blocks of racers.  The A block (consisting of 42 average dragon boat teams) and the B block (9 really good teams).  Each heat is only 3 boats racing against each other and the 3 fastest boats from each block (A or B) race in the finals so you’ll have an A Block winner and a B Block winner.  With me so far??


Our Air Force Ladies Dragon Boat Team was in a heat against the Army Ladies and the Navy Ladies.  That’s an all American race...which never happens.  And let me tell you, it was fierce.  The Navy ladies have consistently beat the rest of us for the past 7 years. In fact, I don’t think the Air Force ladies have won in at least the past 12 years (maybe more??)


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So we were the underdogs!

The race is only 4-6 minutes, and it feels even faster on the boat (especially since you’re used to rowing for a full hour at practice).


We started strong and were pretty dead even on the way out.  But at the turn, we made a wide arc.  The Navy and Army made tight turns and even had a few rowers stop to turn faster.  I peeked at the other boats as we turned and saw them whip around their buoys faster.  And I really thought we were done for.

I watched our coach gonging and screaming at the front of the boat.  We were ALL screaming, “DIG!” “DIG!” Even our quiet and stern steersman knew we were going to win right out of that turn and began screaming, “GO! GO!” It was all rhythm and muscle, rocking back and forth, yelling in sync, digging our paddles in sync…


We came out of that turn and FLEW past the army and navy boats.

I mean, we left them in the DUST!


IMG_2085We rowed so perfectly, so together and strong that our steersman barely had to keep the rudder in the water at all.


And when we discovered that we won, it was bedlam on the boat and on the shore!

IMG_2072 We were crying and screaming and hugging and when we docked our boat and climbed the ladder and crested over the edge to hear our awaiting crowd screaming for us and surrounding us with hugs…I was then SO glad that we won. IMG_2067

SO glad to come off that dock a winner!  To not only have this grand adventure, but to WIN and be a part of history for the Air Force!

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In fact a week later, I’m still sitting here smiling! And let me tell you…

It’s addicting.


If we get to stay on Okinawa, I don’t think I can go through Harii season and NOT be on the Shogun Ladies Dragon Boat Team!IMG_9761



*Some of these pictures were taken by Adam, some from my dear friend, Donna, some from other rowers on our team or supporters and I confess…one was taken from a rival team’s drone!  BUT, they posted it to YouTube so…whatcha gonna do?


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