Lake Wauburg, located just 8 miles south of the University of Florida campus on state highway 441, is a place for students, faculty and staff to relax and enjoy the great outdoors and my home state’s abundant sunshine. That Sunday afternoon in 1966, my friend Charlotte and I went there to spend a lazy afternoon soaking up a little sunshine when a voice over the loud-speaker announced an upcoming canoe race beginning in only a few minutes. Voila. Before I had time to really think it over or protest, I found myself sitting on the front end of a canoe out at the starting point on the lake.
Since everything happened so fast, I didn’t have time to admit that I didn’t know beans about canoeing. When the beginning shot sounded, I started paddling as if I knew what I was doing, and Charlotte was doing her part in the rear. I quickly noticed how the boat went when I paddled one side and how it went the other direction when I shifted sides, so it was a pretty good beginning and I was feeling pretty good. While we didn’t seem anywhere near first place, second or third either for that matter, we were headed the same way everyone else was.
Suddenly we saw that canoes all around us were gracefully circling around us and gliding quickly back to the finish line. It was time for me to fess up. How do we turn this thing around? I yelled. It was then that she confessed to me in turn that she didn’t know how to row a canoe either and had no idea how to turn around; she thought I did.
By this time it was quite clear we had no hope at winning, and no clear idea of why we’d even want to or what would happen if we did. But we had to get the darned canoe and ourselves back to the boat dock somehow. Then I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. Swing your feet around and face the other way I yelled over the sound of our oars slicing frantically through the water. So we both swung around in our seats and continued to paddle as hard as we could.
So determined and involved in our furious rowing, it took us awhile to notice that we were finally getting near the finish line. Not surprisingly, we were last. Surprisingly, however, it was not the winner the people alongside the shore were cheering for. It was us! I felt great that we finished the race even if we bent the rules of canoeing just a little bit.
But even after all those years in between, I’m still not sure why all those people were looking at us and cheering so hard. Now that I look at the picture of Charlotte I took that day, it is very clear to me why everyone was cheering for us.