We know that if you get sick while paddling (sea sick, hypothermia, etc.) you go right in to shore and deal with it. Likewise, you paddle in if you get injured (wrist strain, shoulder trauma, etc.). These are acute situations that require that you get off the water ASAP and recover. But what if you have a long-term illness or injury? Does that preclude paddling? No. It doesn’t. Here are some stories of injury, illness and sea kayaking.
My Heart Wrenching Story
In 2003, just after I turned 50, after going most of my life free from serious illness or injury, my aorta split stem to stern from my aortic valve to my lower thorax. Three major operations and two aortic valves later, I have recovered fairly well.
Each time I’d get an operation, I’d be so weak I could barely move. After the first operation, I was unsure if I could even walk. After the second, I was afraid to swim, much less kayak. With my surgeon’s permission (read the entire story in CONFESSIONS OF A WAVE WARRIOR), my wife took me to Maui and I relearned to swim. A few months later, I took some baby steps and kayaked in the calm harbor with my Tsunami Ranger friends as babysitters. Now, I’m able to go out to the open ocean and paddle for miles, surf in moderate conditions (no more 12-footers), and paddle in scary looking but relatively safe ocean rock gardens. I recognize my limitations and occasionally stretch the envelope here and there. It’s imperative that I not bang my head or thorax, and that I not get cut (I’m on Warfarin, a blood anticoagulant). So I’m careful, never paddle alone, always wear protective clothing, and constantly monitor myself.
I am ecstatic and grateful that I can still paddle and enjoy the serenity and the thrills of being on the water. I plan to keep on kayaking and doing other outdoor activities for as long as I can. I’m not on this planet to lead a tame existence.
Mary Hackney—a Spiritual Warrior
A year after my first two operations, I drove to the put-in at Princeton Harbor, near where I used to live. I untied my boat from the rack and tried to lift it off the roof, but couldn’t. It was too heavy. There was no one around, so I sat down and felt sorry for myself. A cool breeze swept by. I looked up, and far off in the wet sand, a wavering form approached, like Clint Eastwood in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. As the form became clearer, I realized it was fellow paddler Mary Hackney ambling down the beach toward me. I was saved! She could help me take the boat off the truck. When she walked up to me, I saw how thin she looked. I knew she had cancer, and wondered if it would be appropriate for me to ask her for help.
She sensed my indecision and said cheerily, “Need help getting your boat down?” I laughed sheepishly and nodded my head yes. After we got the boat to the ground, we sat down on the sand and had a little chat.
Lightheartedly, we candidly discussed our respective medical situations. She made a big deal about how well I was doing, and that she was happy to see that I lived through the operations and was out and about. I was so impressed with her inner strength and determination. She said that even though she had cancer, she was going to sea kayak, walk down the beach, and do what she loved for as long as she could.
That day she gave me some of her strength and courage. A few months later, Mary passed away. A part of her spirit stays with me, and inspires me to keep doing what I love. Thank you, Mary.
The Fat Paddler Recovers from Catastrophe
Can bad things happen to younger people? Yes. Australian Sean Smith, known around the world as The Fat Paddler, was in a terrible automobile accident a few years ago that crushed his pelvis and gave him severe internal injuries. His road to recovery was long, slow, and twisty. He began kayaking for health and to rekindle his sense of adventure.
He put up a website (www.FatPaddler.com) to share his sea kayaking stories and help beginning sea kayakers thrive. It was so successful, and everyone was so interested in his life story that he wrote a book, aptly titled THE FAT PADDLER, which I reviewed on my website. You can now order the book online!
In his book, Sean stresses that he has done so well because of the overwhelming support of his family and friends. Because of his network of supporters, Sean has been able, one day at a time, to continue to live his life, get on the water whenever possible, and help others to do the same.
Could it Happen to You?
Some readers have been fortunate not to be debilitated by illness or injury. I am happy for you and hope you will stay in good health for many more years. Others will get in a car wreck as Sean did or in some other way get seriously injured. My good friend Jack Izzo broke his neck while boogie boarding and miraculously recovered after years of partial paralysis. He still kayaks and keeps active, though he is definitely not a spring chicken.
Some of you will get arthritis or other lousy disorder, or have body parts not work right anymore—you know, shoulders, knees, hips and such. It’s hard, but physical exercise of any sort helps. Tsunami Ranger Michael Powers (age 71), had both knees replaced last year. He’s back on the water and hiking through the woods.
As we get older, our chances of getting cancer or cardiovascular disease go way up. If Mary’s and my stories are any inspiration, I hope they will encourage you to keep doing what you love as best you can for as long as you can. Life, however long, is a short journey. So make the most of it.
One last word to all my friends out there who have been knocked down: be grateful to your caregivers; they sacrifice so you suffer less. And to you caregivers: take good care of yourself. You too need and deserve to do what you love for as long as you can. So make time for you.
Please share your recovery stories. If you’d like to add to what I’ve written, I urge you to express yourself by posting a comment right now.