Dragon boating kids win big alongside police, fire teammates

There’s a lot more to the Dueling Dragons and Orlando Fire Dragons boating teams than winning medals, but bringing home the gold sure is sweet.

Orlando police officers, Orlando firefighters and local kids worked as one to compete in the Walgreens International Dragon Boat Festival at Turkey Lake Park October 14.

While the Dueling Dragons have been training together for years, Orlando Fire Dragons had just four practices leading up to last month’s event. All teams placed in their brackets, and the Dueling Dragons 1 team brought home the First Responders Cup. The Orlando Fire Dragons took the gold medal in their last heat.

To show his support for the Fire Dragons, Orlando Fire Chief Roderick Williams joined the team for the races. “It was grueling, but your adrenaline kicks in, and then it’s exhilarating,” he said while catching his breath after the first race.

Founded in 2010 by local marketing executive and author Andrea Eliscu, Dueling Dragons is made up of Orlando Police Department officers and kids from the Parramore area. As the program grew in popularity with kids and productivity with its mission — students have GPA and behavior requirements — Eliscu joined forces with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and added two more teams. The newest Fire Dragons team pairs Orlando firefighters with kids from the Rosemont area.

Marty McClain, one of the first volunteers since Dueling Dragons’ inception, believes in the program so much that he retired from OPD in April to work full time at the Boys & Girls Clubs coordinating the dragon boat teams.

“I think [the kids] are looking at the police and fire departments in a new light, that we’re not the enemy; we’re human, just like they are. It also gives the firemen and police a chance to see the kids in a new light, that they’re not all criminals and such,” McClain said.

Tenth-grader Jeremiah Walden has been with the team for four years and said it has changed his life. “When I was little my dad got in trouble with the law a lot, so I would hear stuff like ‘cops aren’t good, they just want to mess with everybody,’ but now I know they’re not all bad … They don’t want to just mess with me because I’m walking or anything,” he said.

Jeremiah tries to help his friends look at police officers differently too. “There are some bad cops out there, but there’s some bad people out there,” he said. “They’re just normal everyday people, just like everybody else.”

Walden plans on continuing with Dueling Dragons throughout his high school career and hopes it will help him get into college. “It makes me feel better, and it looks good … It gets me united with my community,” he said.

Walden hopes to someday own his own business and run an after-school program for kids.

There are currently 33 kids, 19 police officers, and 14 firefighters actively involved in Dueling Dragons and Orlando Fire Dragons.

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