September 2011, while at the Queen Lili’uokalani Ocean Canoe in Hawaii race I was approached by a young woman by the name of Mackenzie. She wanted to exchange club t-shirts. I was about to say no when she said “I am with the blind paddlers team”.

Mackenzie now had my attention. I listened in amazement as she told the paddlers story and without further hesitation made the t-shirt swap. It was a moment in time I will never forget.

Blindness is a deeply personal subject for me. Although I am not blind, I have been twice in my life; both times caused by MS attacks. I spent years in my own little bubble avoiding everything around me as a way of minimizing the risk of another attack. So when I hear or see the visually impaired getting out there and doing what sighted people do I am flooded with emotions and feel overwhelmed. I am inspired and awestruck.

In the case of the blind paddlers I encountered in Hawaii (NAC Makapo Outrigger) I find myself asking the question, where do they find the courage and inner strength to achieve such an incredible goal?

The Queen Lily race is an incredible achievement for any paddler. The 26 kilometre outrigger canoe race brings together over 140 teams and takes between 2 and a half to 3 and a half hours to complete. In 2006 the first team of blind paddlers made their way from California to Hawaii to compete as part of a six man crew. They paddled alongside other athletes from around the world completing the race in just over three hours.

“They were able to prove to the whole world that the inability to see would never hinder the vision of overcoming a disability and achieving a goal that even sighted people have difficulty with.”

Soon after the race the O.C. Makapo Aquatics Project was formed by two of the paddlers (John Chavez and RJ De Rama) and the club has been paddling at Queen Lily ever since.

I believe these two men could see what many sighted people cannot. They believed in themselves and that they could overcome their disability. They showed the world it was possible. And they shared that vision with others inspiring them to do the same.

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Have an inspiring story about someone you know. I encourage you to contact me so we can share it with others.

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