Aug. 7, 2009

By Amy Farnum

When New Jersey City University women’s volleyball player Melissa Loo has time off from the busy schedule of a student-athlete, the rising senior likes to enjoy participating in the ancient sport of dragon boat racing – an activity that is that is said to have originated in southern China over 2,500 years.

Loo, a native of Rutherford, N.J., has been around the sport for years, watching her mother race for a team based in Queens, N.Y.

“The sport is done pretty worldwide, but not very publicized,” said Loo.  “They usually have two-day festivals where they hold races of distances between 250 meters to 500 meters to 1,000 meters.  If you win, you get a trophy or a medal and bragging rights.  At a lot of the venues that my mom’s team goes to we race against other New York-based teams.  There is a little rivalry there.  It’s fun and a social thing and helps people network.”

The majority of participants in the sport are of Asian descent, like Loo’s family.

“My mom started doing it years ago, and at first my sisters and brothers would just go to the festivals to cheer her on and support her,” said Loo.  “My brother eventually started paddling with the same team as well.  My sisters and I never paddled but everyone on the team would ask us to do it.”  

Being one of the paddlers, however, requires practice as a member of a 20-person boat, and Loo’s busy schedule conflicts with the necessary time commitment for the sport, but she has had the honor of serving as the drummer on the boat in races at the Montreal Dragon Boat Festival over the past two summers.

The drummer helps lead the crew throughout a race with rhythmic beating of a drum, but if the drummer is not an active participant in training sessions the sweep directs the crew from the rear of the boat.

“When my mom asked me to be the drummer, I wasn’t sure,” said Loo.  “She said it’s easy – all you have to do is sit there and hold on for dear life and hope you don’t fall off.  That’s how I got on the boat.”

Loo enjoyed participating in the races so much that she is contemplating joining the team after the volleyball season.

“I’ve been thinking about,” said Loo.  “After I’m done playing volleyball, there will probably be a void that I want to fill with something, so I might paddle.”

Right now, Loo is focused on preparing for her final season of volleyball for the Gothic Knights as they get geared up for playing for newly-appointed head coach Nicole Tallarida.  It is Tallarida’s first collegiate coaching position, but the former Nicole Pilla played for NJCU, graduating in 2002.