Darwin Li

Top 40 Under 40 2014

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 39

Job Title: Information Technology Applications Team Lead, Edmonton Police Services

Why He’s Top 40: He’s helping visually impaired Edmontonians and makes sure the city’s 9-1-1 system is working at peak efficiency

Guilty Pleasure: “Chips. There is no such thing as a chip bag half-full; it is either full and unopened, or it’s empty. And MasterChef. Our whole family watches it.”

Eight years ago, while working as a coaching assistant for a Vancouver-based canoe team, Darwin Li discovered how working with visually impaired people could be an eye-opening experience.

“It opened my mind as to what they could do,” says Li. “I realized that only when I got comfortable coaching and interacting with them. I previously had an imaginary barrier about the visually impaired.”

The experience stuck with Li when he returned to Edmonton, where he coaches the Oil City Crew Dragon Boat Club, one of Alberta’s most formidable crews on the provincial dragon-boat circuit, winning competitions in Edmonton, Calgary, Leduc and Vernon, B.C. And Li felt the local environment was ripe for a visually impaired dragon boat team to dip its oars into the fray.

Helping to start Dragon Sight in 2011, Li knew coaching a team with ocular deficiencies wouldn’t be an easy task. But as IT Applications Team Lead with Edmonton Police Services, he supervises the team that keeps its 9-1-1 dispatch system working in top form 24 hours a day. And he uses his day-job skills as a problem solver to create some unorthodox training methods to get the team into competitive form.

“I can’t tell you how many times we sang ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,'” says Li, who had the crew practise offshore first, execute several drills to coordinate the paddles, and then work out in the boats to get accustomed to the waves. “It took time for everything to sink in.”

Dragon Sight’s 2012 debut at the Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival saw it finish next to last. But, last year, it finished 15th among 36 entries. This year, it finished seventh out of 33. Li also convinced the International Dragon Boat Federation to include a visually impaired category in the Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy in early September. The Edmonton team came home with the gold, making it the adaptive division world champion.

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