Meet Mike Shoreman - The First Person with Physical Disabilities to Paddleboard Across All Five Great Lakes
On August 20, 2022, Mike Shoreman made history as he crossed Lake Ontario on his paddleboard. As he transitioned from waves to land, Shoreman was met with cheering and applause from family, friends, and fans. He had just become the first person with physical disabilities to paddle across all five Great Lakes.
In 2018, the former paddleboarding coach was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome –a chronic neurological condition that occurs when the shingles virus affects the facial nerve around one of the ears. The virus can range from mild to severe. In Shoreman’s case, his vision, mobility, speech, and sight became severely affected. His symptoms also include extreme exhaustion, chronic vertigo and hearing loss in one of his ears.
Six months following his diagnosis, Shoreman and his father went to visit an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. During his appointment, Shoreman was told his paddleboarding days were over.
“It was April 2,” Shoreman recalls. “I remember sitting there, I had tears streaming down my face. Two days later, I ended up in a mental health treatment facility. I was just pushed to the brink.”
Getting Back on the Board
Shortly after receiving mental health treatment, Shoreman was invited to be a part of an annual presentation that teaches the public how to be safe and responsible when on the water. He agreed, bringing along some of his paddleboarding friends to conduct the water demonstrations.
“When [everyone] left, there were just a few boards left and they said, ‘do you want to try sitting down on the board for a few minutes?’ I thought, ‘okay, we can try,’" Shoreman says. “I was very scared.”
With the help of his friends, Shoreman sat on the paddleboard for the first time since his diagnosis.
“It felt like I was at home again. It was amazing,” he says. “I lasted three minutes, and it put me on the couch for a day and a half. About a week later, I called up a friend and said, ‘could we try going out on the board again?’ And I lasted five minutes. Then I just kept on incrementally increasing it by just a few minutes and by the end of that summer, I was standing up for a few minutes. I just kept on going throughout the year for the last couple of years.”
The Journey Across the Lakes
As Shoreman built up his paddleboarding stamina, he decided he wanted to do something to help put mental health programs in schools across Canada. His initial goal was to be the first person with disabilities to travel from one country to another on paddleboard.
“I set out to do that with crossing Lake Ontario in 2021, and I didn’t make it,” he explains. “We had extreme weather, there was a tropical storm that came up the coast of the eastern seaboard. It actually hit New Jersey, and it triggered eight-foot swells on Lake Ontario.”
For everyone’s safety, Shoreman’s team called off the attempt. However, the uncompleted venture set the stage for something even bigger: becoming the first person with physical disabilities to paddleboard across all five Great Lakes.
“Rick Hansen is one of the people who inspired all of this, and someone who I look up to a great deal,” says Shoreman.
Along with Rick Hansen, Shoreman adds he is also inspired by Terry Fox and Jeff Adams.
“[These] amazing people who have different abilities who set out to do these physical and mental feats, to challenge themselves...and to raise awareness and funds for other people. These are a few of the amazing people who inspire me,” he says.
The Power of Support
Shoreman learned new ways to balance his symptoms with paddleboarding, often sitting or lying down on the board to manage his vertigo and drinking specifically-curated shakes every 30 minutes to prevent exhaustion.
“When I was told that I would never paddleboard again, I think that really motivated me to prove to myself, most importantly, that I could do the things they said I couldn’t do,” he says. “It might look a little different than it once did. But at the same time, if I didn’t have my disabilities or the challenges that I experience, I don’t know if I would have been able to mentally or physically do this. It really pushed me.”
Shoreman attributes much of his success to his team, emphasizing the importance of having a support system when overcoming challenges.
“It was a huge operation of people who just believed in me and believed in this. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.” he says.
“I've learned that you can't do big things on your own. You need the support of a team of people around you.
Shoreman encourages people of all abilities to follow their dreams and goals, saying, “we are all capable of achieving extraordinary things, with the support of amazing people who believe in us. I’ve learned that if you set out to do something and you believe in it, and maybe you’re the only person that believes in it at the very beginning, you won’t be the only person who believes in it at the very end.”