After my first session dragon boating, I clambered out of the boat with a goofy grin that lasted through the remainder of the day. And after my first race, my grin resurfaced over the next few days, whenever I recalled the event.
I’ve always been passionate about the sport, but after I suffered hemorrhaging in my brain and subsequently underwent brain surgeries, that passion escalated dramatically. Dragon boating became much more than a wonderful and addictive pastime. It became a symbol of my brain injury and the recovery; also, in many ways, dragon boating paralleled my journey since the brain bleeds.
Due to the bloody brain I had to miss an entire dragon boat season. I watched as my teammates pulled away from the docks and paddled upstream, feeling wistful, abandoned, alone. I felt robbed of joy, hopeless.
Following the brain surgeries, I worked out in preparation for the next season. I was bound and determined to regain my strength by the spring, when the boats came out of storage.
As the season approached and I made progress in my recovery, I grew stronger and more hopeful. On that first day of the season, I stood on the dock, awaiting my turn to step into the boat, paddle in hand, holding on to one of my teammates to prevent myself from falling—my balance was precarious. But once seated in the boat, I was in my element, and all was well with the world.
Dragon boating helped directly in my recovery, both physically and psychologically. In particular, both my difficulties focusing and my abysmal attention span improved substantially as I paddled through the distractions in the boat, responding to the coach’s calls, paddling in unison with the rest of my team, and perfecting my technique. While gaining strength as a paddler, I gained emotional strength.
As I healed and the obstacles in my path evolved, so did the lessons I learnt through the sport.
Due to precarious balance, vertigo, and trouble processing sensory input, I had no choice—I had to learn to ask for help, exposing my weaknesses, thus opening my self up to the world. In the process I formed deeper friendships than ever before. My teammates became my family. They supported me and sheltered me, allowing me to heal at my own pace.
Within the security of my dragon boat family, I feel free to learn how hard I can push myself, to test my limits.
As I continue to strive to perfect my paddling technique, knowing that I will never be the perfect paddler, I also continue to heal, knowing that I will never “fully” recover, many residual neurological deficits will always be a part of me and my life.
With my friends’ acceptance of me as I am, post-brain surgery, I am also learning to accept the bloody brain. My teammates have shown me that I am not damaged, I am a whole person. I am strong. I am, in fact, stronger than I was prior to the bloody brain.