Building Community Support – The Pink Paddle:
The Hawaiian outrigger pink paddle: a thank you gift for community support

Building Community Support – The Pink Paddle
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The Hawaiian outrigger pink paddle: a thank you gift for community support

At first I didn’t want it the pink paddle.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. I often write about building disaster resilient communities.

This time I’m writing about community support – 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 tagline 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

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. Imua!