Back to the Boat and Remembering Ben

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On Sunday, I went back to dragon boat practice for the first time since November of 2008.

I realized while out on the water, that I had not set foot (or rather butt) on a dragon boat since he died.

His death wasn’t the reason (per se) that I didn’t go back. In addition to the triathlon training, about the time I thought I might be able to go back, I was dealing with the illness, mental issues and traumatic death of my mother.

While out on the water, I thought about Ben; I thought about him a lot.

I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to go back, but I did. I don’t know if I will ever want to steer the dragon again (that is just too intimately tied to Ben and can’t imagine anyone but him coaching me to do so) but it was good to be back.

We do this drill called “hookey”; Despite the fact that someone different was calling it out, I could hear Ben’s voice. (he was so funny when calling it out)

I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry. (I have tears streaming down my face as I type this)

Today, I finally sanded, dragon decaled and varnished my dragon boat paddle, a project that Ben and I were going to do together.

It was November 10th of 2008, while driving back from Eastern Washington that I got the news that my friend and Dragon Boat Steering Coach Ben died the Saturday before.

He was steering the boat at practice when he had a massive heart attack. They were very close to the dock and the paramedics arrived right away.

They could not revive him and he was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later.

I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been for my friends, my team to watch one of our most beloved members and coaches die.

I think I hurt for them the most.

I felt guilty for not being there. Although it was said that the heart attack was too massive for anyone/anything to help, I still felt guilty for not being there to do my medic thing and even more so, because I was not there for my friends.

Between the ten hour shifts and commute and training for my triathlon and the STP, dragon boating was the part of my life that got let go. On the week days that I actually got home in time for a practice, I was too exhausted to go. Weekends were spent logging long hours on the bike, swimming or running.

I kept saying that I was going to find the time/energy to go back, and each time I didn’t.

Ben certified me to steer the dragon boat and at one time when I was having a melt down because I did not feel experienced enough to handle a task I was given (in the conditions location it was being held in) and be responsible for the safety of the crew. I had Ben take over my boat and I left the event in tears feeling that I had failed everyone. He gave me a couple of days and then let down his gruff exterior and let his true loving nature show.

Ben was only 61 (at least I think so-the article I wrote on dragon boating last year listed him as 60)

Ben had an infectious grin and made everyone around him smile and laugh.

He was a good coach, and good friend and a good person.

He will be sorely missed.

I was told that at the following Sunday’s practice, the other association’s team paddled alongside our boat (which was three deep in each seat rather than two) out to the flagpole at the end of the waterway and both boats did Bens “salute” with the paddles.

Later, there was a memorial event for him on the water, dragon boat teams from Portland Oregon and Seattle came to Tacoma to participate and honor Ben, who touched the lives of so many.

Once again, life reminds me that we never know when our last moment on this earth will be.

We never know when we may see someone for the last time.

We should treat every day is if it were our last and love and cherish those we care about.

Paddles up Ben.

Paddles up!

~L



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