Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paddle2Live - Paddling together to bring courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer

Just two years after his cancer treatment, Jack Marshall Shimko, an avid waterman and outdoor enthusiast is ready to embark on his 2nd annual mission to beat cancer through his favorite sport.

 In late August of 2011, Jack will begin his 260-mile ultra-marathon paddle in the open ocean as a Team Duke Athlete to fundraise for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. Jack will depart from Pt. Conception, CA, and plans to paddle 26 miles a day for 10 days, touching all 8 of the Channel Islands before reaching his hometown of Newport Beach.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take part in the 10 mile Elite Stand Up Paddle race to help raise money for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and to support Jack Marshall Shimko in their goal of raising $1,000,000 towards their fight against cancer.

The view from my truck on the way to the race.

I was up early drank my water, ate my oatmeal, grabbed a cup of coffee, injected 4 units of insulin and was on the road by 6:00 A.M., heading north from San Diego to Newport Beach. I had just reached Dana Point when out of nowhere this unexpected storm, with rain, hail, lightning and thunder burst from the sky!

I had been visualizing and thinking about the race, listening to some Van Halen on the car stereo.  
My plan was to get off to a quick start, paddle hard and fast for the first 2 miles, get to the buoy with the lead pack, once there I could make the turn south and set my pace for the next 4 or 5 miles ensuring a good position at the second buoy turn placed just at the end of the jetty there at the Wedge.

This is when I would begin to hydrate with my Hint Water and mixture of carbohydrate dietary supplement (rapid energy fuel made from natural juices). This strategy would ensure that I keep my glucose levels up, avoiding any unwanted lows.

It was a great plan; I had trained and was feeling good and was ready to go. Then Mother Nature stepped in and decided to throw a little curve ball at me.

This is what it looked like at the beach early before the race, there was rain, thunder, and lightning and of course wind. No excuses though, I am a waterman and need to be prepared for all types of conditions. But I have to admit, it does take a lot more effort to paddle when it’s like victory at sea and there is no consistent swell direction and you’re basically paddling in a washing machine for 10 miles.

No worries, I checked my blood sugar, ate a banana and got some stretching in and got ready to race.

Suzy Strazzulla and I checking out the conditions and talking about the upcoming race.

Some of the racers in the 10 mile Elite class gather around for a pre-race meeting.

This is Mandy McDonnell from the John Wayne Cancer Foundation with the course map.

Here I am with Mark Pighini just prior to the start.

Looking out past the Newport Beach pier towards the horizon the sky is dark and not looking to friendly, I think about Jack Marshall Shimko who is somewhere out there finishing the final leg of his 260 mile paddle down the coast of California and start to realize that this little 10 mile paddle is nothing compared to his battle.

Jack had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and only 2 years after his treatment he was enduring all that a 10 day 260 mile paddle down the coast of California could throw at you.

I have the utmost respect for people like Jack Marshall Shimko. As a matter of fact I have a list of people just like him that have been forced to deal with an unwanted disease or disability and have chosen to stand up and face it head on in an attempt to make a difference.

I’m not trying to compare diabetes to cancer, but as I looked out at the ocean I realize that there is a similarity between what Jack is doing and what I am doing.
We each have something that we want to achieve, something we are aiming for – a goal. We both are people who are giving rise to an action, or a condition – a cause.
I tested my blood sugars one last time and was a little high, somewhere around 250. So I injected 2+ units of insulin thinking that I would be able to manage and level out when I began to replenish with my water / carb mixture.
The start of the 2011 Paddle2Live 10 mile Elite race.
The horn blows indicating the start of the race and I am running through the surf and up on my board as fast as I can.  I reach, set, catch and pull my way through the chop, heading out to the first buoy 2 miles off shore. I try and focus on technique and my plan, knowing that my battle with the oncoming swells and the erratic conditions will test my skills and push my body to its limit for the next 2 hours or so.
I reach the first buoy make the turn and start my paddle south. I fall off my board after being hit by a swell that seems to come from out of nowhere. I get back onto my board as fast as I can and continue to paddle south through the bump and the chop.
I’m forced to paddle on one side for what seems like forever, my left arm is taking a beating. But as I look into the distance I can see other paddlers and they too are fighting the swells and enduring the same conditions.
As I struggle with the conditions, getting mad at myself for not training harder and for not being stronger. I think about Jack, I think about our goals, our cause’s and all those that we are trying to inspire. This gives me the motivation I need and I continue to paddle as hard as I can.
During the 10 mile Elite race Jack completed his paddle from Point Conception to Newport Beach, arriving just north of the Newport Beach Pier. You can see the Virgin Oceanic’s racing catamaran, the 125′ Cheyenne, this was the support boat that accompanied Jack during his 260 mile paddle.

Jack standing on the beach after 10 days of paddling, talk about an accomplishment! Congratulations Jack!
I eventually reach the buoys at the jetty make the turn; I am alone and was on my way to the finish. It was about a mile or so north of the jetty when I ran into a small sail boat regatta. I thought to take the high line around the boats and head North West against the swells, thinking that I could catch a downwind and ride the swells towards the pier and the finish line.
Bad choice, the racers that were behind me took a line in closer to the beach and ended up passing me, reaching the pier ahead of me.
All of this was compounded by the fact that just after I made my turn and started heading back to the pier it seemed like I couldn’t stay on my board to save my life.
I knew that I was not sticking to my plan and I wasn’t drinking my Hint Water / carb mixture.  I suspected that I was fighting with my balance due to the lack of sugar in my system and that I was going hypoglycemic.
But with the adrenalin flowing and the desire to finish on the podium, I wasn’t following my plan. In the end not taking in the right amount of carbohydrate caught up with me.  Trying to push through and not sticking to the plan cost me, I placed 3rd in the SUP Stk. Class of the Paddle2Live 10 mile Elite race.
After the 10 mile Elite race Mark Pighini and a very worn out me on the beach.
I learned something during this race though and need to implement these lessons in my quest to become a better Stand Up Paddle racer. First, I need to train harder and smarter. Second, I need to stick to my plan. And third, I cannot will myself through this disease.
I have diabetes and need to make the necessary adjustments and listen to my body, recognizing the little things like not being able to balance on my board as maybe being a sign that I’m going low.
But most of all I learned that what I am trying to do as a diabetic regarding Stand Up Paddle boarding and racing is really not for me and my little ego, the medals, awards or the chance to stand on a podium and get my picture tagged on FaceBook.
I Stand Up Paddle and race, trying my hardest every time because I know what it’s like to suddenly be told that you will not be able to do something, or to be afraid of failure and not even try, or what it’s like to face an obstacle and think that I can’t do this.
I paddle because as hard as it is and as hard as it will be, as long as I continue to try and do the best that I can then that is all that really matters.
And if through my struggles and accomplishments in Stand Up Paddle boarding I can inspire or motivate others to get out and face their own obstacles, then I will have achieved the greatest victory of all.
3rd place SUP Stk. Paul Zacharias 2011 Paddle2Live 10 mile Elite race.

When I finished the race I was angry at myself for not finishing better than I did. My blood sugar was at 68 and I was shaking like a leaf from the cold. But I had tried my best and in the end that’s all that really matters.

God has a plan and though I don’t always agree with it or understand it I need to just accept it. He had me finish right where I was supposed to.

Thanks goes to Jack Marshall Shimko, the Paddle2Live crew and the John Wayne Cancer Foundation who made it all happen.

I also want to thank all of my sponsors for their support in helping me acheive my goal. Hint Water, Kaenon, OnIt Pro, Kinesys, SportMulti, H2O Audio, GoPro, and Indo Board balance trainer.



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