HandReach to purchase prosthetic limbs for Huang Meihua, a survivor of the Sichuan earthquake. What a wonderful experience that was, particularly because I was marking the 25th anniversary of my cancer diagnosis with that event.
I wanted to do something similar this year, and have thought a lot about what might be an appropriate organization to support with birthday donations. Because here's the thing: I have everything I need and want. And my birthday would be so much more meaningful if we could "gift" something together. So I've got a plan...
But first, a story: Nearly two years ago when I was just starting to recover from my leg infection and wanted to "get healthy" again by exercising, I was chatting with my neighbor. I was telling her how frustrated I was with nearly every athletic activity that I'd tried, because I always had to 'adapt' the activity to me--to do different poses than the rest of the yoga class, to ride a heavy 3-wheeler instead of regular bicycle, and so forth. I told her that I wanted to find a sport that I could do without having to alter it for my different body. She then told me about some of her friends who had lower-limb issues (from amputation to blown out knees to nerve damage) who were outrigger or dragon boat paddlers. She then suggested that I try it out and told me about her team (IMUA Outrigger Canoe Club).
Well, most of you have already heard what happened after that...and you have been all-too-kind in indulging my paddling passion in the meantime...
So here's how this is relevant to my birthday:
First and most importantly, I want each of you to think about someone you know that should know about paddling, and share my story with them. Tell them about the one-legged 39 year-old blogger that you discovered through the magic of the internet and let them know that paddling is the perfect sport for someone who has lower limb issues (or for anyone who loves the water and wants to move their body!). Send them the link to my website. Spread the good word of the paddle far and wide. Really, truly, this is what I most want for my birthday. I want to reach the folks out there who need to know that outrigger canoeing just might be the perfect sport for them. Here are some relevant links that you could send them:
My first race--when our boat tipped over just after the starting line
Learning to steer the canoe
On Cancer, Canoes, & Connectedness
My thoughts after racing from Newport Beach to Catalina Island
So share this with your friends and drop a comment below to let me know how it went. I can't wait to hear about it! To know that others might find paddling as satisfying as I have, would be the perfect gift.
Second: As I've become more involved in the outrigger community, I've learned that there are some "Adaptive" racing opportunities out there for those of us with disabilities. For example, you might remember that originally I'd planned on spending birthday #39 in New Caledonia, paddling for an Adaptive team at the World Va'a Champs. But our racing division was canceled because there weren't enough Adaptive teams signed up for the event. What I've learned from this is that I don't really need to paddle for an Adaptive team. Outrigger is a sport the 'levels the playing field' and I can compete with bipeds just fine. And this is where the second part of my wish comes in...
My Team, IMUA, has three lower-limb amputee paddlers. When I showed up on the beach for practice for the first time, no one suggested that I wasn't "able" enough to compete with the team. Though team members were more than willing to make sure that I could get in & out of the boat okay (which, before I got my waterproof prosthesis, meant stowing my crutches on the beach above the tideline as we launched), there was never a moment where anyone suggested that I needed to be on a different team because of my disability. And the fact that IMUA has three amputee paddlers when I don't know of any others in our league says a lot about our team's openness. Not only do we have amputee paddlers, but we have paddlers with bodies of all shapes and of all ages (from 7 years-old to 70 years-old!). Some of us are elite athletes and some of us are just keeping fit. The diversity of the team is its biggest strength!
So if you'd like to give a donation to celebrate my birthday, I'm asking that you donate to IMUA in my name, to carry on the good work of the team that has embraced me this past year. Our team is doing so much good in the world of paddling--from sending a Senior Masters Team to race in Hawaii this week, to developing a full-fledged Children's program that includes 3 groups at different age levels (my kids' teams), to being the most enthusiastic group at the local races. To sweeten the deal, for everyone who donates $39, I'll take you out on the water for your own personal outrigger lesson! We'll go out for a few hours in the Newport harbor on 1 or 2-man outrigger canoes. If you're not local, we'll take a raincheck for the next time you're in SoCal (because everyone tends to get down here for one reason or another!). My birthday goal is to find 10 friends who'd like to donate $39 for a personal paddling lesson. (Note: If you want to donate, send me the funds via PayPal to janaremyATgmailDOTcom. I'll have a button up on my site in a day or two where you can make direct donations to the team, but until then, just send the money to me and I'll pass it along to the team).
So it's really simple, friends. Don't bother with birthday cards or cake or anything like that. Just tell my story to someone that you know and pass along the link to this post and/or some of my other outrigger posts. And if you're ready to join in the fun, pledge some money and we'll get you all set up for your very own lesson. By doing this, you'll give me a super gift. Because if we can share this sport with just a few friends and friends-of-friends who really need to hear that there's the perfect mode of exercise out there for their particular body, then I'll be thrilled! That will make my day and my year just perfect!