This week during a kayak tour, I was leading guests around the rocky point of Kailua Bay when I turned my head to the sound of shouting coming from the rear of our group. I slowed to a halt until the shouts were audible: “GAMEEEEEEEEE”…… pause…. “GAMEEEEEEEEEE”…… pause. One gentleman joining Marty and I on our tour to the Mokulua Islands, Sheldon, was from South Carolina – Columbia, South Carolina. And then it clicked: “COOOCKKKKKSSSSSS!” I shouted in response from the seat of my kayak. He threw his hands up and with a big smile responded, “FINALLY!!!”
Clay and I were discussing just this week how our position as a sea kayak guide allows us a very unique opportunity. This opportunity is the chance to meet people from all over the world in an informal manner, in a temporary relationship, for a rather intimate six hours. I have learned people’s stories who visit Hawaii all the way from the Dominican Republic, Monaco, Australia, Chile, and more. And sometimes, the people that Clay and I meet are from a place we have called home; Vienna, VA; Columbia, SC; Alpharetta, GA; Boone, NC; or White Salmon, WA. For some guests, the temporary relationship that exists by the nature of our job makes people more inclined to divulge the more private information about their lives. And six hours is quite a long time to get to know someone. I’ll always remember the mother on my tour who intimately told me about the passing of her and her husband’s disabled son two years prior, the spirited 70 year old who followed me around Moku Nui; climbing over rocks just like a billy goat, and I will always remember Sheldon; who Marty and I had the pleasure of guiding to the Mokulua Islands on Monday of last week.
From the moment Sheldon walked into the room, his positive attitude emanated. As a former college football player, he and Marty immediately starting talking football, while I recognized that it was going to be a fun day on the water. Joining us was Alyssa and Matt, more Carolinians hailing from Raleigh. Talks of Chick-Fil-A, Cheerwine, and college football were inevitable. Once on the water – and after the “Gamecock” incident, Sheldon began to serenade our bunch with Katy Perry tunes as we continued paddling to the Mokuluas. After complimenting him on his singing, he told me that he grew up singing in the church choir.
On this day in particular, Marty and I had relayed to guests that landing on the Mokulua Islands today was not for the faint of heart. The swell on the north shore was 15+ feet Hawaiian, meaning that waves beyond the coral reef would undoubtedly be massive, and would be wrapping around the beach on Moku Nui. The conditions made navigating through the channel challenging, and we briefed Sheldon, Matt, and Alyssa for a potentially exciting landing. Nonetheless, our group did beautifully. With 15+ foot waves breaking across the channel, our group was enthusiastic after a successful, smooth landing on Oahu’s most beautiful (in my opinion) offshore island. While everyone joining Marty and I was fun, spirited, and now high on adrenaline, Sheldon was especially so. After exploring the island and sitting down to lunch, I got to hear a bit more of his story. His aura and attitude towards life was a testament of the events that occurred to him in the past year – and it was inspiring.
As our tour for the day began, Sheldon began sharing with us the motto of his role as Safety Manager for the construction sites on which he worked – Same In, Same Out. Meaning; if you came to work with two arms, you best leave the job site with two arms at the end of the day. He shared how this applied to our day on the water in terms of sharks, eels, triple overhead waves, etc – all in good humor. As I continued to learn about his story, I learned that his trip to Hawaii celebrated something remarkable. In early January of 2015, Sheldon was safety manager of a job site one evening when he was blindly hit at 60 mph by a driver who had been texting and driving. I listened with mouth agape as he explained the only way he survived: by not seeing the car whatsoever, and his body therefore being relaxed and limp at the time of impact.
I immediately had all of these questions: Are you mad? Did the driver go to jail? And sentiments: I hope the driver never in his life texts and drives again. It’s incredible that you survived that. His response: “I wish that I could meet him.” Puzzled, I offered a confused, inquisitive look. To be honest I was anticipating something along the lines of scolding or expressing anger to the man who nearly caused him death. Instead, Sheldon continued, “Because I want to give him a hug”.
I didn’t understand. Until I did. I listened as Sheldon explained that when you are given a second chance at life, you take it. Despite him being the one who was hurt and the victim, he somehow has the empathy to sympathize with this young man who made a terrible mistake and nearly ruined two lives – including his own. I continued to think about the situation as I realized the amount of forgiveness that Sheldon is somehow capable of, and how sometimes, you won’t truly know how you feel or respond to a situation until it becomes a reality.
Later, I asked if his extreme-adventure trip to Hawaii was somehow a celebration of his accident just a year ago. “Yeah”, he said, “it is”. Before our trip out to the Mokuluas in the extreme conditions that we faced, Sheldon had been surfing on the North Shore, mountain biking down the Ko’olau mountains, and undoubtedly celebrating each day in Hawaii as he seemed to celebrate and enjoy each day of his life. Throughout our time together, in nearly everything he said and did, he exuberated his philosophy of living each day to the fullest.
It amazes me how after just six hours you can feel like you really know someone. Or at least feel lucky to be enlightened by someone else’s life experiences, and to connect with strangers on a human level. Sheldon, I wish you the absolute best and a very happy 2016. Thank you for letting me share your story – I hope our paths cross again. You are truly one of the reasons that I love my job. Oh, and GO GAMECOCKS!