Every year at the Orlando International Dragon Boat Festival, dragon boat teams glide across waters in a race for the top spot, but one team is charging toward the finish line.
Formed in June 2010, C.H.A.R.G.E. Dragon Boat Team is an Orlando-based dragon boat team stemming from the Chinese American Association of Central Florida. Their mission is to promote the ancient Chinese sport of dragon boat racing in the community for team building, friendship and a healthy lifestyle.
The 22-member team is made up of a diverse group of people ranging from various ages, ethnicities and levels of experience. While each member has their own unique backgrounds and abilities, they each play a part in creating the C.H.A.R.G.E.’s success as a team.
Aye aye, Captain!
John Chung, team captain and founder of C.H.A.R.G.E., has selflessly led the dragon boat team since starting it four years ago. During the team’s beginnings, Chung spent much of his time recruiting and organizing members. Now with more people as a part of his crew, he can focus on preparing the team for races and motivating the team to improve.
“Over the years, we have seen improvement,” says Chung. “Winning isn’t everything, but if we win a medal, it’s just a reward for all of our practices and hard work.”
Also as the boat’s steerer, Chung puts much of his captain duties into steering the team in the right direction. With the upcoming Orlando International Dragon Boat Festival in October, Chung has been building the team’s stamina and endurance through extra practices and training.
“Being responsible for the team kind of put you into the fire,” says Chung. “You’ve got to step up your game. You learn very quickly that you have to adapt and learn your responsibilities.”
While preparations have gotten more intense, Chung stays true to the mission of C.H.A.R.G.E. by focusing on camaraderie, teamwork and the health advantages of dragon boat racing.
“I’m a very competitive guy and I like to win, but I always emphasize the health and teamwork aspects of dragon boating,” says Chung. “It’s such a team sport. You can’t just do things on your own. You rely on your teammates.”
Rookie of the Year
At 19-years-old, Vu Nguyen is the youngest member of C.H.A.R.G.E. Joining the team last spring, Nguyen became involved with dragon boating simply through his love for water sports. Although he had no experience with rowing, Nguyen participated in one of the team’s open practices and has raced with them since. Despite his age, he does not feel any different from his fellow teammates.
“Even though I’m the youngest, they don’t treat me that way,” says Nguyen. “It’s just a number on the stat sheet, but I don’t feel like I’m the youngest.”
Although he is in his youth, Nguyen has much to balance in his day. Along with being a paddler for C.H.A.R.G.E., he is also a second year student at the University of Central Florida along with being the president of the Vietnamese American Student Association. Being a part of CH.A.R.G.E. has given him experiences that he applies to his everyday life.
“I’ve definitely gained an appreciation for time management as well as a good grasp and understanding of teamwork and working as a unit,” says Nguyen. “I’ve learned a thing or two about communicating and have applied it for VASA and group projects.”
For Nguyen, his age doesn’t set him apart from anyone else on the team. He feels there are no advantages or disadvantages from being younger than most of his teammates. Every now and then, the team reminds him of his youth.
“They always poke fun at me for my age,” says Nguyen. “They say I always have more energy and better health because I’m younger, but I get just as tired as everyone else.”
A Family Affair
While many of the teammates of C.H.A.R.G.E. can agree that the team is similar to a family, four of its members are an actual family in real life.
The Hoeh family is made up of David, Susan and their son and daughter, Ryan and Celeste. The family became involved with C.H.A.R.G.E. through attending the Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Launch in 2010 and fell in love with the sport. They are some of the original team members from its beginning.
Dragon boat racing gives the Hoehs the chance to bond more as a family.
“We get to spend lots of time together without electronic devices,” says Susan Hoeh. “[Racing] just gives us a good chance to exercise together.”
For the children of the family, Ryan, 22, and Celeste, 20, being teammates with her parents makes no difference in their home life. If anything, They enjoy having their parents by their side so that they can improve for the next race.
“[Racing] is a different experience,” says Ryan Hoeh. “We push each other further and harder and expect more from each other cause of it.”
“It’s cool that we can talk about everything outside of races and practice and they can join in conversation,” says Celeste Hoeh. “If anyone gives criticism, it’s to get better. We’re all accepting of all the criticism.”
Since joining C.H.A.R.G.E., the Hoeh family has grown stronger and closer to each other as well as the Asian community of Orlando.
“We enjoy the family time and winning the races, helping the other members and the great celebrations after races,” says Susan Hoeh.
The C.H.A.R.G.E. team accepts anyone interested in dragon boat racing regardless of skill level. For Raymond Lam, the team’s co-captain, his journey with C.H.A.R.G.E. began with him having zero experience in the sport. Now, Lam is preparing to compete as a paddler for the United States Dragon Boat Federation team, Team USA. On Sept. 3-7, he will be racing in the International Dragon Boat Federation 9th Club Crew World Championships, which will take place in Ravenna, Italy.
Since joining C.H.ARGE three years ago, Lam’s physical health has improved and has dedicated most of his time to practicing for the international race in Italy. Shifting from C.H.A.R.G.E. to Team USA was a big change for Lam, but he learned to adapt and better himself.
“Going from C.H.A.R.G.E. to the national team is like being a frog in a pond going to the ocean,” says Lam. “I was not quite as efficient in my skills, so it was something I had to work on. It was a lot of training I had to get through.”
Although he trains daily, Lam uses dragon boating as a way to relax.
“Being on the lake on a Saturday morning, no matter how stressed you are, everything goes away,” says Lam. “All you’re thinking about is one stroke at a time. There’s no worries. It’s peaceful.”
Even with his upcoming race in Italy, Lam has no worries about competing on such a large scale. While most of his activities will include racing rather than sightseeing, Lam looks forward to the race where Team USA will be competing against teams from 24 different countries from around the globe.
“All the hard work is done,” says Lam. “Going to Italy will actually be more relaxing because there’s no more practices. Now, it’s on.”
Although each member has their own perspectives on dragon boat racing, they all can agree that C.H.A.R.G.E. has created many opportunities for them. Racing on this team has given the members healthier lifestyles and has taught them the importance of teamwork.
“No matter how good you think you are, you can’t win a race by yourself,” says Lam. “All 22 of us work together as one.”
Most importantly, the C.H.A.R.G.E. team has become a family within itself