Lifestyle - July 23, 2017

Orlando police, firefighters make memories with kids during dragon boat race

To the beat of a drum, members of the Orlando Police and Fire departments and Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida paddled as hard as they could through Lake Fairview Park aboard long, colorful dragon boats Saturday afternoon.

Dueling Dragons of Orlando has been bringing together at-risk youth and police officers for seven years, but in June, the Boys and Girls Club adopted the program in hopes to provide the program a “stable platform,” said Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Cain.

Also for the first time this year, members of the Orlando Fire Department were invited to participate, joining the longstanding partnership the young boaters had with police.

“I can’t think of better role models for our children,” Cain said. “Role models are the ones who show them what’s possible in life.”

On Saturday, the competitors climbed aboard two dragon boats — complete with ornate dragon heads proudly displayed at the helms — and paddled away from shore.

Then two boats filled with about 20 people, including Orlando Fire Chief Roderick S. Williams, lined up and began racing, reaching speeds of about 8.7 knots — or 10 mph.

The teams practiced several times before the races. To be successful, all boaters must work in coordination to propel themselves forward.

Betsy Owens, spokeswoman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, said dragon boating offers a special relationship-building opportunity for the mentors and children.

“As they work together in a dragon boat team, they learn to trust one another,” Owens said.

Walter Martin, a rising 7th grader at Meadowbrook Middle School, said he enjoys the competition of the unique sport and that it’s “fun to be in the lake paddling.”

Kamari Garcon, 14, said the public service members’ dedication to the group means a lot to him.

“You feel a sense of comfort because you know that you’re protected, but it also shows that they can come down to your level,” Garcon said. “Firefighters and police, they always have a high status — saving people, rescuing people — but to know that they can actually come down to where we are and spend time with us, it makes us feel more comforted.”

Walter, 12, said working with the cops and firefighters helps him not only in the water, but in his daily life, as well.

“They help us get stronger and better.” Walter said. “We’re going to be young men one day, so they’re showing us how to be men.”

Speaking to a group at the event, Lt. James Young said the nursery rhyme lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” were especially appropriate at the event.

“’Life is but a dream,’” Young said. “The dreams of the the Orlando Police Department and the dreams of the youth come true with programs like these.”

A $10 barbeque lunch and corn-hole tournament fundraiser for Dueling Dragons will be held at 11:15 a.m. July 29 at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 25, 5505 Hansel Avenue.

Organizer Tom Porter said “Kiwanis Korntoss for Kids” will be held in memory of OPD Lt. Debra Clayton, who supported the Dueling Dragons before she was killed in the line of duty in January. For more information, visit, 407-650-6931 or @CaitlinDoornbos

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