Our weather is cold and gloomy. Let’s go somewhere warm and sunny, like Dubai, Saudi Arabia. That’s where Forest Parker Theresa Marousek competed in the Euro Cup Dragon Boat Championship, Dec. 9-11. 

A dragon boat is a large canoe-like boat fitted with a dragon’s head on the bow and a tail on the stern. Dragon boats originated in China over 2,500 years ago. Now dragon boat racing is one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. It’s enjoyed by millions in over 90 countries.

Theresa was invited to join the Windy City Dragon Boat Club six years ago. “I was bit in the butt by the dragon.” The team is outfitted in the colors of the Chicago flag. They train on Lake Arlington starting in March or April, practicing outdoors 3-4 times a week and paddling in pools during the winter. 

The club has two 20-person boats and one 10-person boat. Each has a drummer, seated on the prow, beating time to keep the paddlers in unison. They also have a helmsperson in the stern to guide the boat.  

Theresa’s team has a female coach from Serbia, who teaches them the proper paddling technique. The stroke is difficult to master. Paddlers use their core and legs, not just their arms. Being part of a dragon boat crew keeps Theresa in excellent physical shape. It’s also healthy mentally to be outdoors admiring the natural world.

Club members come from all over the Chicago area, Theresa being the only member from Forest Park. At 72, she’s also the oldest member of the crew. Most of her fellow paddlers on the women’s team are in their 40s. They compete in the Senior A Division and travel to events in far-flung places, like Sarasota, Florida, where her team took the Gold Medal.

Dragon boat races comprise sprints like the 200 meter and 500 meter, while the pace for 2K races is slower. There are usually 6-7 boats in each heat. Theresa says it takes about 15 strokes of “cement mixing” to get the boat off to a proper start. Then they stretch out to cruise speed. The short races can be decided by a 1/10th of a second, the winners determined by an electronic device.

Twenty-four members of the club went to Dubai. It took Theresa 20 hours to get there. Their 600-pound boat was transported there by a Canadian company that specializes in shipping dragon boats. There were 140 teams from 12 countries, with over 2,500 paddlers. 

They competed in the waters of Dubai’s Waterfront Market. Theresa’s crew wasn’t accustomed to racing in salt water. They found it denser and rougher. One dragon boat capsized. The Windy City women’s team took fourth in their division. 

Theresa didn’t know about dragon boats when she moved to Forest Park in 2007. She loved the down-to-earth people of the village. For much of her career, she used her journalism degree to work as a freelance writer for corporations. 

She is now retired but insists she’s “rewired” and busier than ever volunteering. Empowering Gardens is a cause close to her heart. She has written profiles of the employees and a state grant for the business to finally build a greenhouse. 

The most gratifying part of Theresa’s trip to Dubai was gaining a new perspective on Arab culture. She found the people to be gentle and thoughtful. She saw the world’s tallest building, visited a palace and a mosque, and even rode a camel. That’s a far cry from paddling a dragon boat. 

Then again, camels are called “ships of the desert.” 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.