Send Adaptive Team To World Sprints

At Aka Hemmings’ services in April: (from left) Diane Whitcomb (standing), Christine Greer, Rich Julian, Mark Wormley (standing), John Greer, Darralyn Clark (standing), Alicia Hatori, Karl Kahui (standing), Lee Kapiko (standing), Joe Broc, Lea Klepees, Susannah Rice-Kamanu and Dawna Zane. Kate Church photo

Independent scholar and futurist Joel Barker once said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

The late Aka Hemmings had a vision and a dream, and his actions changed the world. Hemmings believed that the sport of canoe paddling has no limitations. He helped create Project Pure Light and provided a vessel for those with disabilities to compete in outrigger canoe paddling, the official state team sport in Hawaii.

“We are blessed to have Aka as our coach, mentor and friend,” says longtime paddler John Greer. “He has opened many doors and broken down many barriers. He has taken our sport to the highest levels including the World Sprints, Molokai Hoe and now the 2016 Paralympic Games. His spirit is still with us, and we are just riding the ripple the he started that can be felt around the world.”

Hemmings died in March at the age of 59, but his dream lives on. Many of the paddlers who had trained with Hemmings for years with the Project Pure Light program are carrying his torch today. A handful of them are training to compete in the upcoming 2012 Adaptive Paddling World Sprints in Calgary. The five-day event, which runs Aug. 11-15, will feature 12-man, six-man and one-man canoe events.

“Aka always said that this is bigger than anyone of us, but nobody has been bigger for our sport than him,” says Greer. “He showed us that it’s about spreading the aloha, sharing the sport and culture, respecting the people around us and to always be humble. But he also said there is no aloha on the water, so look out Calgary, here we come!”

The World Sprints has evolved from exhibition in 2004 and 2006 to a full medal event in 2008, where Team Hawaii swept the majority of the gold medals. This year, Team Hawaii is made up of world-class athletes from Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Island of Hawaii. All of the paddlers have disabilities, including paraplegia, amputees, polio and visual impairment. None has limitations.

“A lot of strong new and former paddlers have been coming out and we regularly get 12-13 paddlers every practice on Saturday, and that’s not counting Neighbor Island paddlers,” says Greer.

Greer says the crew has received overwhelming support from several organizations including New Hope Canoe Club, Access Surf Hawaii, Hawaii Adaptive Paddling Association, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific and Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company.

Meet Team Hawaii: Christine Greer: paraplegic (motorcycle accident 1993).

Christine started paddling in ’05 and was a three-time gold medalist at the ’08 World Sprints.

John Greer: paraplegic (auto accident ’84). John started paddling in ’05. He was a three-time gold medal-ist at the ’08 World Sprints and steered the first all adaptive crew to finish the Molokai Hoe.

Alicia Hatori: paraplegic (auto accident ’88). Alicia started paddling in ’09 and competed in the Molokai Hoe.

Rich Julian: paraplegic (auto accident ’86). Co-founder of Access Surf Hawaii, Rich started paddling in ’05 and competed in the 2010 Molokai Hoe.

Vickia Koutroupas: visually impaired. Vickia started paddling in ’05. The World Sprints will be her first time competing in an adaptive event.

Mike Nishimoto: paraplegic (auto accident ’03). Mike started paddling in ’11. He is a Persian Gulf War veteran and a triathlete.

Jeremy Wagner: paraplegic. Jeremy was a bronze medalist at the ’08 World Sprints and has completed three Molokai Hoe races. He is an Iraq War veteran.

Diane Whitcomb: Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome. Diane is a social worker for Marine and family programs. She started paddling in ’09 and did the ’09 Molokai Hoe.

Ann Yoshida: paraplegic (auto accident 2000). Ann is a certified rehab counselor and professor of social occupational therapy at a private college in Korea.

Dawna Zane: paraplegic (auto accident 2000). Dawna earned a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. She started paddling in ’02 and has done two Molokai Hoe races.

Karl Kahui: Polio. Karl is from Maui, started paddling in ’08 and has done three Molokai Hoe races.

Darralyn Clarke: arm amputee. Darralyn is from the Big Island and was a gold medalist at the ’08 World Sprints and has competed in three Molokai Hoe races.

Susannah Rice-Kamanu: Cauda Equina syndrome. Susannah is from the Big Island and is a certified substance abuse counselor. She started paddling in ’04 and is Miss Wheelchair Hawaii 2012.

Mark Wormley: leg amputee. Mark is a Big Island resident and a Vietnam War veteran. He was a three-time gold medalist at the ’08 World Sprints and has competed in two Molokai Hoe races.

Vic Allen: visually impaired. Vic is from Kaua’i.

For more information on how you can help the team get to Calgary, go to:, or email Greer at