Sunday 19th May – The day had finally arrived that would see a dozen Shedders rocking up at Roundhay Park with the aim of paddling a dragon shaped boat one hundred meters without capsizing. Armed with a gazebo, a cooler full of beer and Will’s gym bag packed with sweets we set up our base camp between 47 other teams from around Leeds. From the offset, the signs weren’t good; at 10:15 ‘Pull Request’ were called up for the first round of the Tug of War contest… Since we had no idea we had entered this competition and I was the only person on site, we had to forfeit (despite the insistence of some members of the team, that I give it a go anyway).
“It's nerve-racking and scary"
Over the next hour the rest of team arrived. The choice to wear bright orange T-shirts should have made it easier to spot our team amongst the Gazebo if it weren’t for the fact that the St Martin House staff were all wearing the exact same shade… we eventually found each other regardless. By 11:30 we were ready to board our boat and compete in the first of our 3 heats. The worst time would be discarded and the 2 fastest combined to give overall placing where the top 12 teams would progress to the semi-finals. Best efforts were made (whilst causing the least amount of offence) to ensure that the weight was distributed evenly between the 10 rowing positions on the boat, and our resident musician, James took up his position as the drummer on a very wobbly chair at the bow of the boat. James was automatically the most qualified since he is in a band (Kicks of the East – check them out on Spotify). After a short introduction on how to paddle we positioned our boat at the starting line ready to try our best to not finish 4th. Ready … Attention … Go! And we were off, we splashed a lot, some people got very wet, and the boat started moving (forwards). Then something entirely unexpected happened, we took the lead and stayed in the lead and we crossed the finish line before anyone else. We got back to the dry land and awaited the rest of the results to come in and the 1st heat positions to be announced. 1st – Pull Request – 65.02 seconds. We were over a second faster than anyone else, maybe we had a chance of upsetting the odds…
Heat 2 saw another strong performance with a finish time of 65.26 seconds but unfortunately dropped us into 2nd place overall. We were and all but guaranteed a seeded position in the semi-final, so the pressure was off for the final heat. Each paddle hit the water perfectly in sync and the Dragon Boat glided across the lake like a young Jane Torvill. 62.86 seconds, the fastest time of the day so far and enough to put Pull Request into the semi-finals as the number 1 seed.
“You need a dip in the story you can't just dominate the whole time"
The belief amongst the team had really started to grow, not only did we have actually have a chance of winning the first place trophy; we were actually the favourites. As the number 1 seed we had, on paper, the easiest semi-final, but it wasn’t to be. Pull Request finished the semi final in 2nd place (by 2/10ths of a second) and we then had to watch the winners from the next 2 semi-finals book their place in the final race of the day. Our disappointment soon turned to hope as it was announced over the address system that Pull Request was the fastest loser and as such reserved the last place in the final 4.
It had been 7 hours since the team arrived and all that stood in the way of glory was a few hundred meters of placid lake water and 3 other teams with their eyes on the prize. For the last time; the team held their paddles above the water ready to go hell for leather as soon as the claxon sounded. Ready … Attention … GO! It wasn’t a great start, it was panicked and the other 3 teams took an early lead. However, A quarter of the way into the race and Pull Request started to make ground, half way and we were just about neck and neck at the head of the pack. All 4 teams seemed to pass the finish line seemingly in perfect unison. No one was sure where we had finished and all the teams stood in eager anticipation as the results were announced. We were called first… 4th place, no trophy, no medals. We came so close but it was 20m too far for the team that day.
It wasn’t until we finished packing away our belongings that the initial disappointment started to fade away that we realized just what we had achieved. 12 people decided to get into a dragon boat for the first time and enter a competition against experienced teams from all over the county and finished 4th. We even managed the fastest time of the day. Most importantly though, with your help and the help of our friends and family we raised over £1,500 for a fantastic local charity, and we had fun doing it. Not since the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team has a team of underdogs over-achieved so much! 17th May 2020 we will go again, and this time we will be bringing home some medals!