Practice day for the team! Mariah and I opted to rent bikes last night to keep throughout today, as the park that we need to get to for my practice is 2 miles from our apartment. We can certainly walk, but it is probably easier to bike across town in this heat.

We stop for a quick bite at a new cafe, and I am graced with the most decedent cup of hot chocolate that I have ever had. Seriously, I cannot begin to explain the richness and depth that this small white cup offered up to me. It was almost too good to be true, and this is coming from a hot chocolate snob. Yes, yes, I drink hot chocolate in the summer – do you drink coffee in the summer?

It is the same thing – don’t judge.

We head to the park and quickly find the Divas. Great organizing by our team leaders, and we are all told where to go and what to do in an orderly fashion. I laugh a bit as I bike through the park towards the river, knowing that keeping control of a group like us is a bit like herding cats, and for once I am not unhappy about not being in charge.

The team of volunteers at this park (which is filled with trees and shade, paths heading off in all directions, right on the banks of the Arno River) are cheerful and joyous, greeting us with a hearty “Ciao” or “welcome”, and I start to get excited. The team finds a spot to park our gear, and we get organized to head to the dock.

I am particularly excited to try out my new paddle, one that I ordered and have never had the chance to use – I thought it would be fun to christian it here in Italy.

We load into our boats, and I am thrilled to have my bench mate Terri with me. She is a great person an was my first ever Dragon Boat coach. I am a bit nervous, as I have had several episodes while paddling where I seemed to push my body farther than it wanted to go, and I am at risk for puking into the river. That is NOT something that I want to do today with so many people watching.

It is a warm up paddle, a practice, and I try to get my head into a place that I feel comfortable. Our lead in the boat is Lynne, and she leans towards us as we float along waiting for another boat to finish their run. Her words – words that she repeats for us over and over – make an impact on all of us.

“Ladies, stop and look where you are at. You are in Italy and paddling on the Arno.”

It is this moment, looking around at the magnificent view of the water, the beauty of Florence, that I get it. I get the moment and it is ingrained in my memory.

I am in Italy. I am paddling on the Arno. This is a moment of a lifetime.

My heart sings, and I reach a new level of peace. And I paddle on.

It is a perfect practice – it feels good, the pain that usually lives front and center is sitting at the back of my world, and I love every minute of this time with my team.

I could go on and on about the rest of the day shopping with Mariah, the ridiculous food, and how I just want to wrap my arms around this entire city and give it a big hug, but I won’t.

I will just say that I am so happy and at peace right now. I don’t get a lot of peace in my world these days, but right now, I feel better, at peace and completely happy.

Lessons for the day:

Never, ever let moments flit past you. It is so important to pay attention to things – I can’t say that enough.

When you hear something spoken to you, such as I did from my coach, stop and say it again to yourself. Ingrain the moment into your head. It will enlighten your entire soul with greatness, and THOSE are the moments that make life worth living.