Farewell to Our Dragon Boaters

Courtesy of Shen_Shifa

It was a terrible tragedy and one of the saddest news which hit our shores this year. Till now, many of us are still reeling from the fact that five of our strapping young men gave their lives to a murky river in Cambodia. Victims of strong undercurrents and hostile rowing conditions, they represented some of the best athletes our nation has produced. The sadness of their family members and friends must be immeasurable.

I used to be a dragon boater, though not at the national level like the boys. I recalled watching the national team trained before - hulking, tanned and ripped guys who looked like bodybuilders (no kidding). I rowed for the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) during my NSF days and subsequently the National University of Singapore (NUS) where I studied. Although I wasn't in the A-team, I had a chance to strengthen my fitness and health during those years. Something which I would be eternally grateful for.

I remembered how gruelling the training regimes can be down at the National Stadium and Kallang River. First, we ran about 2.4 km, followed by interval training (800m to 400m sprints, followed by 20 push ups or sit ups, 1 minute rest and off we go), medicine ball tossing, weight liftings in the gym. And that was only in the morning. In the afternoons, we would be rowing for at least two hours or so. By the end of the day, every muscle and sinew ached for relief.

One thing which all competitive dragon boaters appreciate and understand is discipline and teamwork. You have to row in unison, with the same beat and in the same breath. To win, every body needs to pull more than their weight in the water. If one or more guys "kengs" and paddles air, the results will show. This is why dragon boating is one of the sports which bonds people together more so than any other.

To the families and friends of our five national dragon boaters who passed away, I express my deepest condolence and sorrow. I know that no words can express the sorrow and grief which encompasses you. Time will heal all hurts, and I pray that you will find comfort in time to come.

To the rest of the 17 national dragon boaters, take heart that you are not alone. The nation grieves along with you on the untimely departures of your fellow team mates who are friends and brothers. Take your time to cry, to feel that sense of loss, and to step back first. There will be another day for another race, where you guys will once again carry our national flag with great pride.

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