Baby Long Beach - May 22
Paddler's Corner: Gilda Soonthon
What year did you join LARD?
Gilda: 2005 was my first year joining the team. I was brought out by Jason Wong.
What was your impression of LARD?
Gilda: Jason Cheng used to live here in LA. He led our after-workout stretch (remember how we used to stand in a circle and stretch together?), and I'll always remember that he made sure to recognize the first timers, and mentioned me by name and everyone, mid-forearm stretch clapped for a few seconds and welcomed me. It was really cool.
What was your first race experience like?
Gilda: My first race - Baby Long Beach 2005. I was anxious and butterfly-y - and had none of my own equipment to soothe me into some routine or familiarity. I brought a towel, sunblock, and some water. Little did I know how gear intensive race days would become in my future!! The first time I sat at the start line with the rest of the team, I felt like everyone does - nervous! Eager to do well for the team, eager to make sure I followed the start sequence. Eager to make sure I could hear the horn, and all the while remembering I had to BREATHE! LARD educates us in a thousand ways, but most notably I have learned more about athleticism, and the wonders of breathing. I think my arm fell asleep during the race because I was holding my breath for a portion of it. And I'm sure that made me even more nervous since I wanted to do my best for the team so badly. Needless to say, I survived and came back for more. Like we all have. And I'm a far far better person for it.
[Gilda was not only a superb paddler, but served as president of the board from 2006 - 2007]
Paddler's Corner: Dennis Chhean
I found out about dboat/LARD through Will Lin. Will was (ironically) the president of the Cambodian club at UCLA, even though he isn't Cambodian. I was actually on my way to the first general meeting for the UKS Club, but got lost. I remember Will poking his head out the door into the hallway and saying, "Hey you! You want to join the Cambodian club don't you!?" What's funny is that to him, I was just a random person wandering the hallway, but if you know Will, he's just outgoing like that.
My first impressions had more to do with my own demeanor and personality. I'm slow to warm up. So I was generally intimidated by this large group who was dedicated to a sport that I knew nothing about. I was also one of the youngest on the team which added more to my shyness. I remember my first experience on the boat- during the warmup piece, not even a few strokes in, I recall Wileen yelling at me to stay in time- that was intimidating as a dboat scrub!
It took me about a year of practice to build up the nerves to race. What finally got me was that Will invited me to AZ to come as a non-racer to get a feel for what the tournament atmosphere and energy was like. I remember shadowing Diane as a race organizer. I remember that there was a lot of energy and passion coming from the team. Watching them race and putting it all on the line was incredibly inspiring. I was hooked from that very moment. I believe my first race was the following baby LB.
I grew up playing sports and team sports (basketball, football, tennis) and dboat is the epitome of teamwork. Everyone working hard as one unit got me hooked. It's really inspiring and motivating to know everyone on the boat has your back and is willing to exhaust themselves for one common goal. I've never been the most athletic or most gifted, so I've built my game (football and basketball) on defensive principles, technique, and fundamentals. I've always been a team player, and dboat brings a lot of my philosophies to the forefront. What do I like about LARD in particular? One word - Leon. When I first joined the team, Leon's speeches were so EPIC. His words weren't just about dboat, they applied to life. When I heard his words, I felt larger than life. One of the hypothetical questions that we like to ask one another after tournament or random trip is "Why would you quit dboat/LARD?" My answer is "The second Leon quits LARD, I'm going to retire myself too".
Do you think the team has changed since you've joined?
The team has DEFINITELY changed since I first joined. One obvious change is in our approach to our diet habits. When I first joined LARD, we truly lived up to our name, after every practice there would be eating contests, who could eat the most, who could eat the fastest, who could eat the grossest combination, who would eat the most food off the floor, etc. Now the team is much more healthier and aware of our eating habits
What's it like having your brother on the team with you?
I talked him into joining about a year after I did. It's really great to see him so driven at being one of the strongest/fittest on LARD. When he first joined, he was very indifferent about life in general without any real passions, but lately he's come into his own as a person and paddler, and it's just great to see him doing so well, he's been really constructive and supportive and helping me to become a better paddler too. Its incredibly enjoyable to paddle with him in a boat and I was pretty disappointed when we were separated at LB  (I probably enjoy paddling with only a handful of people).