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Lessons in Adaptive Aloha

I’m in total awe of all I have learned in two days. I first visited the Maui Wheelers, a support group for wheelchair users which has been meeting for over 10 years. The group has a variety of members, and I could tell right away they were like family to one another. Getting together with others who can honestly say they understand how you are feeling is priceless, and I realized that was missing in my life. I’m fortunate enough to have a strong support system, however, none of them have been in my shoes.

I spoke to the group about my story, my new title as Ms. Wheelchair Hawaii, the Vertical Beauty Project, as well as the Adaptive Water Sports events. I anticipated attending for long enough to speak and then leaving so they could finish their meeting together. As I spoke, a feeling washed over me that I needed to stay until the end, and I am glad I did. What I learned from them was absolutely priceless and humbling. This group was extremely educated on the county laws for accessibility, and the names of those who made the laws. They were also knowledgeable on the latest information regarding the Paratransit system among other topics.

The best part of my time with the group was when I was lovingly, yet sternly, reminded of the importance of the Hawaiian culture and the respect I needed to have for it. On Maui, there is a stretch of Beaches, which has the nickname of Kam 1, 2, and 3. The proper name is Kama’ole, (and the Hawaiian names are sacred. The land has an energy, or Mana, and is not to be taken lightly. With that, I realized I am not just representing myself at the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, I am representing the entire state of Hawaii, and the Hawaiian culture needs to be respected and represented well.

I gained a whole new outlook on my title, and I was motivated to learn all I could about the land, the names, and the culture. I absolutely love the Hawaiian culture and I remember it was so noticeable as soon as we moved to Maui. There is a feeling of Ohana (family) in everyone. The entire village takes responsibility for raising the children, where I am an Auntie to all the kids, and Charlie is surrounded by many Aunties and Uncles. It is a togetherness you cannot ignore, and I was overwhelmed by my responsibility to showcase it when I go to nationals. I look forward to more lessons from Auntie Penny.

Today I was extremely excited to co-host the first meeting for Adaptive Sports Maui. A small team of myself and three others (Jenn Gladwin, Brett Shearin, and Teddy Zabel) started a month ago in a coffee shop with a vision to get people with disabilities in the ocean and experience adaptive water sports as independently as possible. We decided to begin with a social gathering to get a pulse on the needs, challenges, and resources of the community.

I was amazed by the turnout and enthusiasm. The needs ranged from a way to get across the sand, to adaptive equipment, to the County of Maui's increasing accessibility, to simply needing a support system to get over their fears. When we all listed what resources we had to offer, it became clear how strong we were when we all acted together. Where one had a weakness, another had the needed strength.

I look forward to learning from those who have endured the tough trial and error in adopting the equipment, as well as getting together with my new friends for some ocean training to get my body ready to take on the surf.

One thing was very clear, it does take a village, and I am grateful to live in Hawaii where the Aloha spirit is strong. We are stronger together, we will smash the stereotypes and we will experience the stoke.

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