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Finding My Voice on a Dragonboat

by Weegee Sachtjen

Using Your Voice: How I found My Voice on a DragonboatFOCUS

Some say I have a powerful voice. While I have been using it since I was months old, I only learned how to use it effectively in my mid-30s. A journey that started with my own personal terrible, horrible no good day.

June 2009, my first husband and I decided life would be better if we weren’t together.  The very next morning, at work, I discovered that the nationally syndicated TV show I worked for was moving from Portland to New York — and not taking the staff.


I wore out that broken record of lies. I didn’t want to relive the pain with friends over and over. I didn’t want people to know my anger, my resentment, my shame, my fear. I didn’t want people to know that everything I had known about me had been blown apart. I lost my role in society, my direction in life and how I saw myself.  I was anything but fine.

I cocooned myself into a new, hardly furnished apartment and stared at the blank, creme-coloured walls. Blank because the only decor I had was emotionally charged mementos of a life long gone. What would I want to see hanging on the wall? What does my future happiness look like? What would make me feel fine, never better . . . . great.


To distract myself, I hit the water three nights a week as a paddler for the Wicked Paddlers Club. We were in training for an August race in Victoria.

One night at practice, my mental and emotional anguish turned into physical pain as I lost the ability to move my arm. I had slipped my bicep tendon out of its groove and I needed to nurse it back to health. No paddling. No racing. No Victoria.

Not willing to let me set this one out, the team nominated me as their caller. A dragonboat caller is the ‘heartbeat’ of the boat. They sit facing the paddlers and use rhythmic calls to indicate the desired paddlers’ stroke.

I knew nothing about it. It terrified me. It should have terrified them.

The first time I stood in front of the boat, I yelled. Yelled until it hurt.  By the end of the hour, I couldn’t speak above a whisper. I was done. I was wiped. This wasn’t working for anyone.

“You’re calling to the paddlers. That’s too vague,” my mentor said. “Paddlers, by definition, could mean the first bench. Focus your goal. Call to the tenth bench.”

Next practice, I focused on where I want my voice to reach. After each short exercise, I would ask benches to raise their hand if they heard me loud and clear. At first, it was the first bench or two. Ok, not great. But within a few practices, I saw hands on bench six, then seven, nine . . . and eventually 10.

Taking the lesson off the boat, don’t be vague in your goals. FOCUS on where you want to be. Use your voice to state clear, specific goals beyond what is right in front of you.

The paddlers can hear me — now what? What do you say to twenty men and women to get them in sync with each other? My mentor’s advice was simple:

“Tell them what you need. They want to help. They want to help you succeed.”

Next practice, I asked them to dig it in. Time it up. Count it out. Not only did the boat lift up out of the water, a goal for any dragonboat, but it glided on the rough Williamette River.

We’ve all been hurt, devastated and terrified. At some point, each of us have had to pick up the pieces and start anew. Instead of cutting ourselves off from friends and family, cocooning ourselves away in a blank wall apartment, we need to reach out to our support systems. Use our voice rather than silencing it. It takes a team to lift us up and glide us through the rough waters of life.

In August,Team Wicked headed to Victoria with a newbie caller at the front of the boat. That weekend, we placed in a higher division than any of us anticipated and, for the first time at that venue, we took home a ribbon.

And I had a new memento for my once blank wall. An image of the person I could be. It was a strong start.

Sometimes the most powerful voice is the one in your head. The one that dwells on what is missing. What is lacking. What you’ve done wrong. What you can’t do. How you failed. It is important to know that voice isn’t always right.

Think good thoughts about yourself. Tell yourself that you are stronger than you think. Know that you have the power to get through this .  . . not just over it. You will be surprised at the strength inside of you, even during the worst of times. The finish line is within your ability.

That summer, I learned how to use my voice on and off the boat. Our voice has the power to bond us, motivate us and lift us up. Our voices are at their most powerful when we are at our most vulnerable.

Use that power. Share your story. Ask for help. Tell yourself how strong, great, awesome you are. Use your voice.


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Sandy Wrightman April 22, 2017 - 5:13 pm

And here we have perfect example of ‘rupture’ and the beginnings of the new person that rises in the space created when our whole life seems to disintegrate. Even a new heart-beat voice. In our new context I would love to hear more about this. This is what I was looking forward to in the chapter called Rupture.

Weegee April 22, 2017 - 7:02 pm

I believe almost every speech I do is about a rupture and picking up the shattered pieces to become my radiant self. But this was the biggest one. Where I lost everything: who I was, how I defined myself. Every once in awhile I find residue from the initial collapse, but I’m rebuilding a stronger woman. Hear me roar. Is yours similar?

Debbie February 23, 2018 - 3:06 pm

What a lovely piece WeeGee.



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