As dragon boating slowly continues to gain popularity throughout the US, a local Illinois team is taking the world by storm. The Windy City Dragon Boat Club (WCDBC), based in Arlington Heights, IL (a NW suburb of Chicago), recently competed at the Dragon Boat Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy. After earning the berth to compete by winning the 2013 Club Crew Nationals in New Jersey, the team traveled to Italy in October of 2014 to go up against some of the toughest teams in the World (the competition drew over 130 club crews from 27 countries)! The Windy City Dragons competed in three (3) distances (200m, 500m and 2k), in three (3) different divisions. In the end, they took home two (2) GOLD medals in the Senior A Mens division, a bronze in Senior A Mixed, and a bronze in Premier Mixed. Needless to say, the team was extremely proud of their accolades and even prouder to represent the USA on a world stage.
Since that time, they have been working hard in preparation for the next major competition, the 2015 Nationals, to be held on their home lake – Lake Arlington – July 25-26. If they do well (as expected), they will earn a berth to compete at next year’s World Championships in Australia! The Windy City Dragons practice 2-3 times per week as a team. (This is in addition to individual paddling sessions on outrigger canoes as well as strength and endurance training in the gym.) The WCDBC also competes in various festivals throughout the summer (e.g., St. Charles, Toronto, Madison, Chinatown and Milwaukee) to ensure that they are race-ready for Nationals and beyond.
The club’s origins date back to 2009, when a group of individual paddlers from the Lincoln Park Boat Club, most with a long history of competitive paddling experience, came together as a team to compete at a local festival in St. Charles. When they won that competition, it was clear that this was not going to be a one-time thing, and the first competitive Chicago-based dragon boat team was formed. Without a boat of their own, the team traveled to WI on a regular basis to practice with the Racine-based club, Arashi. In 2010, they joined forces with Arashi to compete in the Club Crew Nationals in Chatanooga, TN. After winning that competition, team members pooled their own money to buy their first dragon boat, and the Windy City Dragon Boat Club (WCDBC) was born.
Over the past few years, the team has grown and developed its roster to become a consistent threat – not only at local festivals, but in national and international competitions across the country and around the globe! In 2011, they competed in the Club Crew Nationals in Fort Dodge, Iowa (that year, the Nationals were switched to odd-numbered years) and won the bid to compete at the 2012 Club Crew Worlds in Hong Kong. In 2013, the WCDBC joined forces with the Iowa-based team, Solid Steel, to compete at Nationals in New Jersey as well as Worlds in Italy (2014). Today, the club has three full-fledged teams: The Windy City Dragons (elite competitive crew), the Windy City Black Dragons, and the Windy City Lady Dragons. They also work with local corporations (such as Grainger and United Airlines) and non-profits (such as Wounded Warriors) to help coach and ready their teams for festival competitions.
Believe it or not, there’s more to the WCDBC than just winning races and collecting medals. Team members paddle for a variety of reasons, chief among them the 3 F’s (fitness, fun and friendship). There are few team sports that allow 22 people (20 paddlers, a drummer and a sternsman) to all be on the playing field (or in this case, the boat) at the same time! The team also encourages new or inexperienced paddlers to give dragon boating a try by offering two (2) free sessions (including personalized coaching) to anyone interested in paddling. Membership in the club is only required if a paddler decides to continue after the introductory sessions, so there’s nothing to lose! However, most new paddlers end up joining the club after their first experience on the water. It’s just that addicting . . .
For more information on the WCDBC, please check out their website at windycitydragons.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to request your first free introductory session!