The Pink Paddle: A Gift of Hope

Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Cancer, Community Wellness, Resilience | 13 comments

The Pink Paddle: A Gift of Hope

At first I didn’t want it.The pink-colored canoe paddle seemed so out of character for me. Then it hit me: my new gift represented hope.

The shiny paddle, with its blade swirling in shades of pink and white, was a heartfelt thank you from Eric, a close friend who lives miles from the sea, in landlocked Colorado. Eric is fighting the good fight against a greedy, insatiable enemy—cancer. The deadly battle lines have been drawn. I’m on his team. The pink blade is my fighting weapon that links me to Eric and links him to the healing waters of the warm Pacific Ocean that he loves. Together, we take on each wave, and each day, one at a time.

Pink Hawaiian outrigger paddle--a thank you gift for community cancer support.

Pink Hawaiian outrigger paddle–a thank you gift for community cancer support.

I often write about building disaster resilient communities. This time I’m writing about communities building resilient people. The Mana’olana Pink Paddlers, affectionately known as “the pinks,” is a Maui, Hawaii-based paddling club made up of cancer survivors and supporters. I’m a supporter. The spirited organization was started in 2006 by members of the Maui Canoe Club and the Abreast in a Boat program in Canada. Mana’o (mah-NAH-oh) means “thought.” Lana (lah-nah) means “belief.” Together the two Hawaiian words mean “hope.” The club’s tag line says it all: Challenging Cancer. Creating Community. Promoting Hope. People from around the world journey to a small beach in Kihei to exercise and build confidence and friendship. The community help some celebrate being cancer free, it supports others facing chemotherapy, others to heal from operations. Loved ones come to say goodbye in a sacred Ashes-to-Sea ceremony.

Mana'Olana Pink Paddlers, Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai'i

Mana’Olana Pink Paddlers, Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lanai’i

Last year I joined my fellow Pinks and hundreds of outrigger paddlers from as far away as Canada and Japan for a voyage from Maui to (and for some around) the nearby island of Lanai’i in the annual Paddle for Life. I paddled in Eric’s honor and in memory of Stephanie, my sister-in-law. The voyage raised over $65,000 for the Pacific Cancer Foundation, supporting Maui County residents with access to cancer education and treatment.

Tremendous effort goes into strengthening communities to handle disasters of all types. Strong buildings, infrastructure and economies are paramount to helping a community stay safe and robust. Yet, with each disaster event—be it Boston, New Orleans or Japan—we are struck by TV stories and social media tweets describing the remarkably resilient human spirit that binds a community together to move forward.

Facing a disease such as cancer is a more individualized, private affair. Community support is key for the person affected, as well as for friends and family. After Stephanie lost her ten-year battle with carcinoid cancer, my brother David found community by bringing hope to others through Happy Tails, a pet therapy program. Eric, now a retired paramedic, leads Colorado’s Firefighter Cancer Support Network. For both, community plays a vital role in healing and accepting.

“Imua” is the Hawaiian command to start paddling. It means “go forward.” It’s also a word of encouragement to keep going, particularly when faltering. Eric led me to the Pinks and put a swirly, girly pink paddle in my hands to say thank you. And, to remind me that we’re all connected.



  1. I’m feeling the love strength and support of Oceana, Va’a, family, and spirit. I’m forever grateful to the Pinks, Maui Canoe Club and the connection with all life; finned, shelled, winged, leafed, and legged. “Imua” The Journey is the Goal.

    • And we are grateful to you. You are the original inspiration for my journey.

  2. What a beautifully written story about Mana’olana Pink Paddlers, and the work we do. Mahalo! Giving back and helping others is so rewarding to both survivors and supporters. Everyone needs someone, and we can help survivors get back to living their lives!

    • Mary, thank you for your leadership with the Pinks. You are leading the board and membership towards moving our organization into much wider global engagement. Very exciting!

  3. A nice read and wonderfully heart felt :)

    • Thank you so much, Linda.

  4. What you are all doing precious woman, is making this life matter.
    If anyone must die, well then, should we all not look at how great it is to row?
    Love you dearest. Next time ur here for sure. A rendezvous

    • Reenie, your gift to the world as a photographer of people has brought so much joy to so many. Keep up the great work!

  5. I’ve been associated with the pinks since they began – and I can’t remember a more wonderful group of women. The interesting thing for me was that each was out of her comfort zone when she began paddling – those 400 lb. boats can be intimidating. One of the things they learned during that first season, was how to huli (tip over) a boat, right it and get back in. Now THAT was truly intimidating. One of the crucial factors is the teamwork required to right the boat, regain entry, and then make the boat run smoothly. In no time at all, the teamwork aspect had been mastered. That’s really what the group is all about – teamwork and helping each other. The ‘pinks’ have grown in number, and now have their own pink boats. But the underlying spirit, the goodwill, and the basic premise of the group is still the same.
    I’m honoured to be a pink.

    • Florida, the pinks are honored to have you. We all aspire to be like you one day–in so many aspects.

  6. I am deeply moved by the strength, courage, awareness and joy in life that the Pink Paddle represents. I am fortunate to have lived to nearly 70 with no cancer. I had a scare in 1985, and had the submandibular salivary gland docs removed at Slone Kettering in New York not been benign, I’d not be writing these lines.

    I work in Tanzania, in East Africa, where a people I have known died of liver cancer (surprisingly common and possibly related to consumption of moldy peanuts and their aflotoxin). But whatever the cause of death, life is short and healthy-active life-years are even shorter. Another friend needs a wheel chair which I am about to take out to her by flying ‘in it’ — taking advantage of my bad right knee and airline’s willingness to take along one’s wheel chair as gate checked baggage. So much needs to be done in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa by way of primary health care, accessibility of antenatal care, safe birthing, availability of low cost pharmaceuticals, making mobility and accessibility the norm for people with many kinds of impairments.

    My entry point regarding health generally in Africa and disability in particular is my work on disaster preparedness and vulnerability reduction — work similar to that of the Frew Group.

    However, general orientations and commitments — intellectualised ‘analysis’ is one thing, knowing people such as Eric are out there in Colorado and my friend Joyce is there in Tanzania adds a personal, emotional component that makes me, and us, more human.

    My bother-in-law, now many years pre-maturely dead at 42 was one of the early pioneers in preventing youth suicide due to the stigma of homosexuality. Recalling his phrase, ironically now common long after he used it, “It Gets Better!” Let us make it so.


    • Ben, your tireless efforts in Africa and elsewhere around the world, as well as your books and teachings over the decades have been invaluable to building community disaster resilience and empowering those needing a voice. We have much to learn from you.

      I believe it critical that in one way or another, all of our work needs to help empower those impacted by either personal and societal challenges, to help it get better. I agree with you: let us make it so.

  7. Another good post Suzanne! Good to highlight these community organizations and the support they offer to those facing cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Support by friends and family can be the crucial thing that can help cancer patients recover and have a high quality of life. It’s not always how long we live, but how well we live.

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