Orlando “Cops and Kids” Dragon Boat Team Brings Home the Gold from International Festival in Toronto
Orlando, FL -- The Dueling Dragons of Orlando Dragon Boat Racing Team (aka “Cops and Kids”) raced to a personal best and earned a gold medal in the Premier mixed round one of the GWN Dragon Boat Challenge Festival in Toronto Canada this past weekend. The team is an unlikely partnership between at-risk teens and Orlando Police Department officers who joined together to become a one-of-a-kind, competitive racing team. The team has attracted international attention in just a short time which sparked the invitation to participate at the festival alongside 200 teams from around the world.
“It was a rainy 60 degrees for our first race on Saturday morning,” explained Officer Jan Croud. “Our goal was 500 meters, in 2:30, and we came in at 2:29 soaking wet. At our next race, we shaved off four seconds in the pouring rain to a gold-medal finish at 2:25.”
The youth who traveled to Toronto as part of the team come from the City of Orlando’s Operation Positive Direction, Parramore Kidz Zone and the Orlando Parks and Recreation Department, and they earned their spots on the team by staying active in school, attending practice regularly, maintaining good behavior/no arrests, mastering the technical skills required for the sport, maintaining a healthy state of physical fitness and developing respectful, positive relationships with all team members, coaches and mentors. For many, this was their first trip ever on a plane or even away from Orlando.
When asked what he’d say to the donors, 15 y.o. Brandon Cunningham stated, “This trip taught me strength, not just physical but also mental toughness. It also taught me the most powerful are not marines, firemen or police officers as we’ve raced them all. The most powerful paddlers are those who grow as a team, race as a team and treat each other like family. And the best team will paddle not just to win a medal but to win new experiences, but winning a medal is always a bonus.”
Officer Margie Sum stated,” Toronto was team fun. The kids were great. Everyone was adaptable, no drama and they took criticism and correction well. I thought the compliments to the kids by so many people was wonderful. The kids were very gracious. Our community should be proud of them and this program.”
Under the leadership of the team’s founder Andrea Eliscu, the group raised $35,000 in financial and in-kind support to cover all travel expenses. Trip sponsors included Universal Orlando, Disney, the NeuroSpine Institute, Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, Harriett Lake, Air Canada, BB&T, the Orlando Magic, Mears Transportation Group and Orlando Health. The Dueling Dragons team has been practicing weekly to get ready to compete in Toronto.
“This was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both the kids and cops,” said Eliscu. “They experienced teamwork in an entirely new way and earned respect as viable competitors. They were like rock stars everywhere they went at the festival, with people coming up wanting to meet and take pictures with them. Their contagious spirit and gracious behavior was the talk of the racing village.”
As part of the trip, the Dueling Dragons team also enjoyed a special visit to Chinatown courtesy of Kathy Ng, a local Toronto nurse, paddler and breast cancer survivor who inspired by the team when she learned of them in April, raised $2,000 from her dragon boat team and friends within the Toronto healthcare industry to provide this unique cultural experience complete with dinner, a tour, photos and souvenir shopping for the kids.
Dragon boats have raced in China for more than 2,700 years. Now one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world, it is estimated that there are over 50 million people in more than 60 countries who participate. Success in dragon boating comes only when a group of 20 paddlers, one steersman and one drummer work together in complete harmony. Dragon boating has been lauded for its ability to bridge cultural gaps, build teams and promote healthy lifestyles.
Formed in 2011, the first Dueling Dragons team was comprised of 10 local at-risk youth and 10 Orlando Police Department SWAT officers. It was the first team of its type in the history of the sport. After practicing together for just four months, the team paddled to a first place finish in the Community Cup and a second place finish in the Open Division of the Walgreens Orlando International Dragon Boat Festival. Now in its third season, the Dueling Dragons have remained active and competitive. Members from the Orlando Police Department include both male and female officers, and a number of the teens from year one are still participating -- all as volunteers. In 2012, Andrea Eliscu, the brainchild of this unusual team, received the Orlando Police Department’s Good Citizen Award for her efforts in establishing and nurturing the program. In addition, other cities are beginning to replicate this successful program. Toronto is in the process of forming its own “Cops and Kids” team.
Dueling Dragons, a program of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida P.O. Box 2987 Orlando, FL 32802 407-841-6855
For more information, contact Marty McClain, Director of Dragon Boat Programming, at email@example.com.
Please note this is not an official City of Orlando website. Dueling Dragons is a privately funded program that operates in collaboration with the Orlando Police Department.