Dueling Dragon boats teams race in Orlando for a cause

Dragon boat teams raced Saturday at Lake Fairview Park, in Orlando. The event was organized by the Dueling Dragons, a group of dragon boat teams half-crewed by Orlando Police and Orange County Deputies. The other half of the crew were local teenagers, like Ambar Mejia, who live near downtown. "My friends told me hey, join dragon boat, and I was like okay, what is it? They were like, it's row boating, and I said okay," Mejia said.

Mejia has now been dragon boat racing for two seasons. She said rowing side-by-side with first responders had given her more than just fresh air and fitness, it had also forged a closer connection with the people keeping her neighborhood safe. "I like how it bridges the gap between the community and the officers. It's a great program."

First responders, like Orlando Police Officer Josue Torres, also said it was great being part of the team. "We're not just these serious people you might see in the neighborhood. Oftentimes we're responding to their neighborhood for a serious emergency. So they see a different side of us and say hey, they're not just showing up when there's bad things going on, they're also here for the good times."

This was the Dueling Dragons’ fourteenth year racing in Orlando. They raced against four other teams at Saturday’s festival. Dueling Dragons runs three boats. Each one holds 20 people, and those boats are evenly split between law enforcement and teenagers. Andrea Eliscu started the organization, and said she was proud to see how it had grown through the years. "We are changing the kids, changing what their families think, then we change what the community thinks, so it's very symbiotic both ways."

Dueling Dragons is free for the racers. The organization is funded by private donations. Orange County Sheriff John Mina also showed up for the race. He said it was great seeing all the different uniformed groups helping change teenagers' lives. "The officers, the deputies, the firefighters, so it's a good contingent of people out here."