I walked down to the waterfront with my life vest on, my shiny paddle in my hand, and my mind focused. When I got down there, I saw my best friends, MJ, Karla, and Robin. We had all been waiting for this since our first year at camp when we were 8 years old. I just turned 13 so now I finally get to try out for the war canoe team. This was my chance to finally prove myself to the older girls. The war canoe teams always seemed so untouchable and cool, but now, I might actually get to be one of them.
“Hey Kathleen!!” they yelled at me. We all quickly hugged each other and then put our games faces back on. We had the entire term to catch up, but we only had an hour to prove that we were good enough for the war canoe team. We looked in awe at the older girls that were on the team last year as they walked down with their uniforms on and their extra shiny paddles. These were the girls who basically had my fate in their hands. There was Chloe Lawrence, Molly McCabe, Karina and Dani Rugama (the “twins”), and Karen Diaz. All together, they called themselves, “The Guad Squad” becuase our camp is on the Guadalupe River in Texas. They’ve been on the war canoe team for three years so they basically get to decide who joins the team and who doesn’t.
Chloe took charge right away and said,“Alright ladies, after today, some of you will be on the war canoe team, and some of you will not. Try your hardest, do your best, and remember that there is no crying in war canoe!” said Chloe as she raised her shiny, silver paddle.
Chloe Lawrence is like a camp god. She was the war canoe captain. She was the best this camp had ever seen. She got on the war canoe team when she was 13 and became the stern of the boat when she was 14. Every year, she always brings the team to victory during the war canoe race against Camp Mystic, the all boys camp across the street.
“Alright, group 1, you’re up first.”
I’m group 1. First out! I don’t think I can stop shaking.
“Alright so here’s how this is going to work. When I say stroke, you stroke forward, when I say halt, you lift your paddle out of the water, when I say veer left, you put your paddle in the water and push the water to the left, and when I say veer right, you put your paddle in the water and push the water to the right. If you mess up, you will hold the entire boat back. So, don’t mess up! Any questions?”
I had ten, but didn’t say anything. We all just said “No ma’m!” and got in the boat.
No one prepared me for how painful war canoe feels. We’re in a metal boat with metal paddles bending down on one knee. I brought knee pads, but they aren’t good enough, my knees are still in so much pain. I can feel them starting to bruise and swell as we stroke down the Guadalupe River. My hand is so tightly grasped around the hand of the paddle, that I can feel blisters forming. My arms grow more tired as I dig the paddle into the green water. It feels like the water gets heavier and heavier, but I have to keep going. My ears ringing from the loud yells of Chloe from the back of the boat yelling, “STROKE!” and just when I feel like my arms about to explode, finally, we get to the end.
“Alright, the results are in and the war canoe team is posted on the front door of the dining hall. Thank you everyone for trying out. Practice starts today during siesta time!” Chloe made announcements after we all finished eating breakfast.
“MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!” said Robin while pushing the younger girls aside so we could get to the list.
I could hardly even look. I wanted to see my name on the list so badly, I couldn’t bear not to see it on there.
Stern: Chloe Lawrence
Paddlers Row 1: Marina Johnston and MJ Christiansen
Paddlers Row 2: Dani Rugama and Karina Rugama
Paddlers Row 3: Robin Manriquez and Molly McCabe
Paddlers Row 4: Sarah Wagner and Paige Fisher
Paddlers Row 5: Karen Diaz and Karla Wilson
Bow: Kathleen Jarvis *
“Welcome to your first practice. As I said during try-outs, there is no crying in War Canoe. If we are in the middle of a practice round and you get a cramp, you keep going. If we are doing dry practice and you skin your knee, you keep going. And if you miss a command or mess up, YOU KEEP GOING. This is my last year on war canoe and I will not let it be ruined by amateurs slowing me down. We are here to win! Our number one goal is to beat Camp Mystic, and if any of you ruin that for me, let’s just say, you can forget about ever being on war canoe again. Any questions?”
Again, I had ten, but I didn’t bother to ask.
The end of the practice race against Camp Mystic came and went. All I want to do right now is cry. It was my fault. I lost the match for everyone. We lost because of me — because of my mistake. I felt my chest tighten to the point where I could hardly breathe when we lost.
“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT JARVIS?!” Chloe yelled at me while the boat was still in the water and the boys were all singing their victory chant.
“I’m sorry Chloe, it won’t happen again! I couldn’t hear you and thought you said veer right!” I said with my voice shaking from being scared and also from the water being freezing cold.
“WHY WOULD I SAY VEER RIGHT WHEN WE WERE ALREADY RIGHT? YOUR MISTAKE RUINED IT FOR THE WHOLE TEAM! YOU’RE BOW! FRONT AND CENTER! IF YOU MESS UP, THE WHOLE BOAT GOES HAYWIRE. YOU BETTER SHAPE UP FOR THE REAL DEAL OR YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT BEING IN THE BOAT EVER AGAIN.”
I felt terrible. All I wanted to do was show the older girls, and all of camp, what I’m capable of. All I wanted to do was win. I got back to my cabin, and I just cried.
After two weeks of practicing constantly, every day and every night, the day is finally here. This is the the real deal. The War Canoe Race. It’s also the last day of camp, the saddest day of the year. The day I have to say goodbye to everyone until next summer. But, this is also the happiest day of the year because I get to prove myself to everyone, especially Chloe.
Chloe got us all in a circle, and we chanted at the top of our lungs while jumping up and down in a circle. All of us had red paint on our face that was slowly sliding down our faces as the sweat glistened down. After, we all walked out together, arm in arm, with our paddles in our hands — shinier than ever.
We all did our war canoe chant while hitting the boat for good luck and then it was time to get in the boat. I got in first, one knee down. Everyone filed in after me. We paddled slowly out towards the middle where we saluted the Camp Mystic team and then paddled back to our beginning spots.
The camp director was in the water, with a red flag and a whistle. Once the flag went down, the stern would start shouting commands and we would start the race. Everyone in the crowd is told to be dead silent so we can hear the stern. The silence just makes the sound of my heart beating inside my chest feel stronger.
The whistle blows, the flag goes up, and I hear Chloe yell at the top of her lungs, “STROKE!” and we stroke.
We stroke on and my arms are feeling stronger than ever. I stroke and stroke perfectly at the tempo of Chloe’s voice. I can’t look next to me because I will lose focus, but I assume we’re ahead because I don’t see the other boat in front of me.
We only have to keep going until we reach the red line in the water, the finish line. I see it in my vision and focus in on it, but then I felt a big thud against my side that rocks the boat.
The boys’ boat just hit the side of ours. We all reacted quickly and hit them back. Medal boat against medal boat making the loudest bang I’ve ever heard. At this point, it’s like bumper cars and I’m not sure if they did it on purpose or not. I can already feel the scrapes on my knees forming. Nevermind that, I have to keep my eyes on the red line at the end of the river.
My paddle goes in and out of the water, I’m paddling faster than I have ever paddled before. My forehead drops bullets of sweat. My arms tense. My muscles feel like they could explode. But I keep hearing Chloe’s voice in my head saying “YOU KEEP GOING”.
Finally, I hear a whistle, and then I hear Chloe yell for real this time, “HALT!” and I look down in the water, and see that the nose of our canoe crossed the red line.
I can hardly speak, honestly I didn’t know what I expected this to feel like, but I feel like I went into shock.
No one’s quiet anymore, as soon as we crossed that finish line and our camp director blew the whistle, signifying the end of the race, everyone started screaming at the top of their lungs. Everyone on the team started screaming too. Chloe even started crying.
We shake hands with the boys, give them the “maybe next year” taunt, and then climb into the boat and paddle back to base while Chloe leads us in a sing along of Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver. It almost feels weird paddling at a normal pace. The water seems so calm now that we aren’t racing for our lives. We get back to the base and all carry the boat back up to the shed. It feels surreal that the race is already over.
“Alright everyone come into a huddle” Chloe says while wiping tears off her eyes.
We all crowd in, I’m next to Chloe and she puts her hand on my back.
“I never thought I would say this, but that was the best war canoe race I’ve ever seen. If it were up to me, I would do war canoe for the rest of my life. But since I can’t, I’m so glad that was my last race ever. You all killed it out there! Guad Squad, I knew you guys wouldn’t let me down. I love you guys forever. MJ, you stroked harder than I’ve ever seen you stroke before. Keep that same energy next year! Karla, way to keep the boat moving. You really nailed it this time. Robin, never stop being aggressive, it’s what makes you good!”
Then Chloe stopped talking and looked down at the ground. I hope I’m not the only one that noticed she forgot to mention me. There was a long, awkward pause and then Chloe finally looked back up, her eyes welling with tears.
“Kathleen, you did it. You really did it. I’m excited to come visit next year and see you in the boat.”
I could see the tears welling up even more in Chloe’s eyes, which made my eyes water a bit too. We all hugged each other a little tighter. After spending so much time together, most people would get tired of each other, but not us — not our team.
We all chanted while jumping up and down one more time. This time we yelled louder than ever. Chloe’s face was as red as the paint on our faces.
“CHIP CHIP CHIPEWA!” we all yelled for the last time all together at the chant ended.
After we finished cleaning the war canoe shed and packing all of our stuff from the cabins, it was time for the hardest part of camp, when we have to leave. Coming to camp is always fun, but leaving camp not so much. I wish I could stay a little longer, but all good things must come to an end, at least that’s what my mom always says when she picks me up.
I hugged all my friends and counselors goodbye, grabbed all my luggage and got in the car. It’s always hard to leave Camp Chippewa, but I find comfort knowing that I’ll be back. And next year, I’ll be even older and have more respect now that I’ve been on war canoe and even better, I now have Chloe’s approval. I’m basically unstoppable now. I can hardly wait until next summer.
“So, how many days until camp?” my mom asked me as she turned on the car.
“342 days, 10 hours, 32 minutes, and about 45 seconds.” I said with a smile.