University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Year of the Dragon

University College's dragon boat team had a blockbuster season

Think navigating rush hour is tough? Try steering a boat with 21 other paddlers on a crowded waterway. It takes months of gruelling practice, but for the crew of the University College dragon boat team, it’s all part of the fun – and glory.

In 2004, UC’s Water Dragons picked up all three Ontario university championships and in October travelled to Tianjin, China, to race against 18 other college teams from around the world. The first – and only – Canadian team to compete in the annual races, the Water Dragons placed fifth in the 500-metre race and sixth in the two-kilometre event.

More than just the culmination of a blockbuster season, the students’ trip to China was a pilgrimage of sorts. Dragon boating originated there almost 2,000 years ago as a ritual to ward off evil spirits. Now more than 50 million people participate in the sport worldwide, and it’s becoming increasingly popular at the St. George campus, where there are now at least six college teams.

The UC Water Dragons formed in 1999, and this year about 80 students attended tryouts. Veteran team members say they like the camaraderie. “It becomes almost like a second family,” says Wilson Hong, the team captain and a student in U of T’s radiation science program. “You have to trust people when you’re in the boat, so you trust them off the boat, too.”

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