Posted by: Staff | 02.08.2008

College Essay VI: Peter Wilmot


Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! We all yell in unison, our hands rhythmically plunging in and out of the water. The beat of a huge drum booms in our ears as our boat, one entity with twenty-two parts and a single purpose, glides through the water like a serpent. Our furious strokes propel us forward. My hand shivers as it plunges beneath the cool water again and again. And I think how did I get sucked into this?

I like trying new things. So when a woman I barely knew asked me to do this, I couldn’t say no. Not only had I never seen what she was describing, I’d never heard of it either. Dragon boating, what in the world is that? In ancient China, I found out, this was similar to a war game, where boats of 22 (a steerer, a drummer, and 20 rowers give or take a few) attack other teams. Everyone would throw things or whack each other with bamboo sticks. Today, it has evolved into a far tamer sport.

It is 4:45am. I am in a deserted parking lot just outside of Boston, waiting for my ride with four older women that I’ve never met. A black car pulls in, and its headlights reflect off puddles on the asphalt, adding to the nervous anticipation of the moment. We arrive in Hartford, Connecticut, at 8 am and I meet the team–40 adults of all shapes and sizes, from tall thin women to short fat men. I’m clearly the youngest. They’re all wearing shiny black sweat-wicking shirts with a silver roaring dragon’s head on the front. This is our team jersey.

When the start time is upon us, we board the long boat, canoe paddles in hand. One of the adults says, “No worries, kid, just stay in time, pull with your back, and keep your paddle vertical.” So that’s what I do. I lean with my back, keep the paddle vertical, and pull straight.

STROKE! STROKE! STROKE! My arms and back burn. My legs are cramped. But I can’t quit; none of us can. We just keep yelling and rowing, yelling and rowing. Only 100 meters left in the 500-meter race, and we are head to head with the lead boat. The sun is blaring; the water is flying in every direction. Just before the finish, we pull like we’ve never pulled before, and our boat seems to fly, not even in the water, but just above it. We launch into the lead and across the line. We win!

I am really glad I was drawn in with that simple “Wanna try?”. I am always eager to try new things. When I return home, it is with a shiny new black sweat-wicking shirt with a dragon head on the front, a gold medal hanging from my neck, and an idea of what my next adventure should be. I apply for and am accepted into a program that will take me to visit the land of dragon boats. But that’s a whole other story.

Peter will be attending Brown University



  1. By the way, since we posted this essay early by accident, there was no new essay on Tuesday, February 12. But there’ll be a new one tomorrow!

    And great essay Peter. 🙂

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