We had three weeks before the last race of the year benefiting the Kilby Laboratory School in Florence, AL. It felt longer, but we were busy taking care of some personal things and preparing for the many offseason tasks that await.
We left for Florence on Monday, expecting to coach the first sessions of this second annual event. I knew some thunderstorms were predicted, but with weather you never know what might happen. On our way there my client sent me a text saying, “Are you worried tornadoes may blow the boats away?” It’s not the text you want to see from your client. We made a Plan A and Plan B, and when we arrived, we unloaded boats in a fairly strong wind. We got them all secured and then went to eat lunch with the race committee. We got to catch up like old friends (a great perk to this job, in general). We also ate at an awesome Mexican place where they make their own tortillas every day. When we returned from our wonderful lunch, we returned to the venue for practices to find more ominous looking skies. People were showing up for their session – 30 or more came. We scoped the radar and told them it wasn’t looking good. They wanted to wait until the actual practice time since nothing had yet actually happened, but it was darker. Just before the session was to start, we all said, “Sorry, this isn’t going to be safe”. Then, the tornado siren blared and everyone darted. We stayed for a bit to secure the boats, but finished in time to leave before the really bad stuff came through there. When we checked in at the hotel, we learned there would be a free dinner in the lobby. We decided to stay put for the night. The tornado hit a nearby town much harder than it did where we were. Winds exceeded 60 mph, but no major damage. The boats were filled with water nearly to the seats, but everything and everyone was fine. We just had to make up the practices, which we did.
We had a great week in Florence. The people there are so nice, the food is good and practices were fun. Every team was competitive. The other big scare we had that week involved a more technical problem we couldn’t control. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which powers the Tennessee Valley, was generating at full throttle. The current was was ridiculously fast. Setting the racecourse was very difficult. We were told they could only bring it down by about 20 percent on race day. Then, we learned something happened at a dam overnight and they brought it down even more. It wasn’t down all the way, but it was much better.
Race day was full of excitement and some close races. The costumes, spirit and all around good vibes made for a beautiful ending to an awesome 2014 dragon boat racing season.