Fired-up Pyro Paddlers make a splash at dragon boat races
A long boat with the head of a dragon, painted vibrant red and yellow with flaring teeth, heads down the river propelled by 18 paddlers in blue shirts, the systematic cadence of a drum and shouts of “U-I-C!”
Dragon boat racing is not your typical college sport — but since 2008, the UIC Pyro Paddlers have taken to the river in a competition that’s all about teamwork.
This year’s finish at the 14th annual Chicago Dragon Boat Race for Literacy in Chinatown June 28 was the Pyro Paddlers’ best yet: 7th out of 30 teams.
“We were happy with how things went,” said Elvin Chan, team manager and assistant director of the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center.
“I structured the practices to emphasize synchronization earlier this year than last year,” said Jenny Korn, co-captain of the Pyro Paddlers and doctoral candidate in communication and gender and women’s studies.
“Which encouraged a stronger focus by the team on keeping the same beat while paddling during our races.”
The Pyro Paddlers team is open to all UIC students, faculty, staff and alumni. It includes 18 paddlers sitting side-by-side, a flag puller and a drummer.
The Pyro Paddlers always travel with an additional five members, but this year some team members had to leave early. Despite the setback, the team managed speedy times in the four heats, finishing under 1:20 in each race at Ping Tom Memorial Park.
The first race of the season, was June 7 at the St. Charles RiverFest, where the Pyro Paddlers finished 9th out of 12 teams.
“St. Charles is a different race from Chinatown because of its increased length,” Korn said.
The team may add a third race to future seasons: the Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival on Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights.
“It’s a possibility,” Chan said. “It’s more of a logistical question and it’s up to next year’s captains.”