Waka Ama

Trip Start Mar 17, 2006
Trip End Mar 31, 2006

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The races have started. Yesterday was the athlete's parade. Over a thousand people, from about 26 different countries/states/areas. We were Team California and there's about 70 of us. New Zealand has about 300 or so. I can't remember the last time I was part of a parade, perhaps the Aptos parade when I was like six. There was probably a puppy and a wagon involved but I could just be projecting from stories I've heard. There were two local classes of kids who were out on the street watching as we turned the corner. One of the classes had made flags they were waving of all the different countries and some of our team started giving them our little US flags we had. The kids went crazy. Never have I seen so many people in wheel chairs or one leg who participate in a sport on an even playing field - they have no disadvantages in the boats. It is amazing and I'm proud to be part of a sport that's so accepting of so many different people.

We had our 12 man race today. The V-12's. It was over in the blink of an eye. We got out of the boat and I turned to Ana, "there's five of the 20 minutes that we flew to NZ for." But it was amazing. The Tahitian women passed us in the warm up. They passed us as if we weren't even paddling. We didn't come in last and our boat felt good. We also had people from all over CA who had never paddled together before - and most importantly it was a blast! I loved it. The venue is fabulous in its set up with tents all along the bank of the lake for people to watch. On the stage updates are televised throughout the day on the Maori television station about the big Waka Ama race here in New Zealand. It is a huge event for them and even the Queen of the Maori people was here to greet us during the opening ceremony. I love then energy, the tension, and the passion that is in the air at the races. Everyone is excited and happy to be there.

In Mr. Levy's fourth grade class, he started many of us on stamp collecting. What he started for me wasn't so much an interest in collecting stamps as an interest in travel. My favorite stamps were from a little place I'd never heard of called Fiji. The stamps were brightly colored with fish and other creatures as exotic as its name. I learned everything I could about Fiji and the places around it. My love for that part of the world never left. Now, how many years later, when we were in the parade I looked around and saw people from Fiji, from Easter Island, from Cook Islands, from England, Italy, Japan, Hawaii, from all over the world and they are all around me. They are not little pieces of paper in a book. They are living and breathing and competing and I love it. It really is a dream that I never thought I had. Funny how many dreams lie dormant and rise up when you least expect it to complete something you never even remembered you had. I remember sitting in Mr. Levy's class dreaming of all these places so far away, of the lifestyles on the water and now I'm in the middle of it. After the opening ceremony the Cook Island guys started singing along to the music from the speakers. They were laughing and singing in an impromptu performance. People were dancing, laughing and everywhere you looked people were happy.

Let the races begin.
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