Rochelle resident Patrick Hickey has been canoe racing since 1992 when he first competed in the Mid-American Canoe Race on the Fox River. But it wasn’t until eight years later that Hickey first became interested in dragon boating, where races extend up to 2,000 meters and the boats, which feature a pointed back and a dragon on the front, carry up to 20 athletes.
Hickey’s first dragon boat experience dates back to 2000, when he started paddling for a local team based in his hometown of Saint Charles. Hickey competed in the Club Crew Nationals in 2004 and after several years away from dragon boating, Hickey rediscovered the sport in 2018, when he started paddling for a DeKalb-based team called Paddlin’ For MB.
“I have five brothers and two of them have been in the Mid-American Canoe Race since at least the 1980s,” Hickey said. “My older brothers were doing it and it looked like a lot of fun, that’s what got me involved. I started canoeing marathons with my younger brother, Mike, and one evening while we were on the Fox River, a dragon boat came our way and asked us to join a team. We tried it and I was hooked from there.
The team competed in the 2019 Club Crew National Championships, securing a spot for the 2020 Club Crew World Championships, which was to be held in France but was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic. Hickey then began paddling with the Greater Chicago Dragon Boat Club in 2020 and competed in the 2021 Club Crew National Championships, ultimately qualifying for the 2022 Club Crew World Championships in Sarasota, Florida.
“I like competition and I usually do pretty well,” Hickey said. “Winning is fun and there are a lot of benefits, including exercise. Being outside and doing something fun is just as good as any other kind of exercise. There’s also a social aspect, especially with the canoe races and the dragon boat.There are over 20 people in our dragon boat team and we meet quite often.
In addition to his experience competing at Club Crew National Championship events, Hickey was on the Team USA Senior B roster for the 2021 International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships, which were to be held in Hong Kong but were also canceled due to COVID-19. Hickey said he intends to earn a spot on the Senior A or Senior B roster for the 2023 IDBF World Championships, which are scheduled to be held in Seville, Spain.
“I really like the competition,” Hickey said. “The races are long and difficult. A lot of the canoe races I do are over an hour long and I enjoy the physical side of it all. It’s also nice because I see a lot of the same people and it’s fun to see familiar faces on the water.
Hickey, whose four children have all participated or are currently participating in sports at La Rochelle Township High School, loves being on the water. Hickey and his daughter, Anne, recently competed in the 65th Annual Des Plaines River Canoe Marathon, finishing first in their division. Hickey, whose experience on the water includes competing at the US Canoe Association National Championships in 2006 and 2009, will be in Sarasota this weekend for CCWC 2022.
“Anne did the most paddling with me and we practice on Kyte Creek all the time,” Hickey said. “We are going to take a canoe and launch it down the river and do a few kilometers to train. Paddling the river is really peaceful and not only do we see wildlife but I get to hang out with my daughter which is great as I love spending time with her.