Rowing: Hickey paddling his way to success

Patrick Hickey has been racing canoes since 1992. Hickey also began dragon boating in 2000 and has competed in a wide ranging series of events. (Courtesy photo)

Rochelle resident carries decades of canoeing, dragon boating experience

Rochelle resident Patrick Hickey has been racing canoes 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 showed an interest in dragon boating, where races extend as long as 2,000 meters and the boats, which feature a pointed back and a dragon on the front, carry as many as 20 athletes.

Hickey’s first dragon boating experience came in 2000, when he started paddling for a local team based in his hometown of Saint Charles. Hickey competed at the Club Crew National Championships in 2004 and after several years away from dragon boating, Hickey rediscovered the sport in 2018, when he began paddling for a team based in DeKalb called Paddlin’ For MB.

“I have five brothers and two of them have been participating 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 so that’s what got me involved. I started doing canoe marathons with my younger brother, Mike, and one night when we were out on the Fox River, there was a dragon boat that paddled over to us and asked us about joining a team. We tried it out and I was hooked from there.”

The team competed at the 2019 Club Crew National Championships, earning a berth in the 2020 Club Crew World Championships, which were supposed to be held in France but were 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 enjoy the 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 as good as any other kind of exercise. There’s a social aspect as well, especially with canoe racing and dragon boating. There are over 20 people on our dragon boat team and we get together quite often.”

In addition to his experience competing at Club Crew National Championship events, Hickey made the Team USA Senior B roster for the 2021 International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships, which were set to be held in Hong Kong but were also canceled due to COVID-19. Hickey said he intends to earn a spot on either 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 they’re tough. A lot of the canoe races I do are over an hour in length and I enjoy the physicality of it all. It’s also nice because I see a lot of the same people and it’s fun when I see familiar faces on the water.”

Hickey, whose four children all participated or currently participate in athletics at Rochelle Township High School, loves to be out 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 participating in the 2006 and 2009 U.S. Canoe Association National Championships, will be in Sarasota this weekend for the 2022 CCWC.

“Anne’s done the most paddling with me and we practice on Kyte Creek all of the time,” Hickey said. “We’ll take a canoe and throw it on the river and canoe a couple of miles for practice. Paddling on the river is really peaceful and not only do we get to see the wildlife, but I get to spend time with my daughter which is great because I enjoy spending time with her.”