Mike Shoreman is hoping to become the first person with a disability to paddleboard between two countries, but he isn’t just doing it to get into the record books — he wants to raise awareness, and money, to help youth with mental health issues get the help they need.
Over the course of three days beginning Saturday, Shoreman will travel across Lake Ontario between Rochester, New York and Toronto, covering about 140 kilometres alongside the Toronto Marine Police Unit and an expert in the sport.
And although the former professional paddleboarder says being out on the water feels like home to him, Shoreman’s brain disorder will make the crossing significantly harder.
“I think people wonder what living with a neurological condition is like,” he said. “When I turn my head from side to side or up and down too quickly, I get really dizzy. In the early stages, it was like being whipped around on a carousel inside my head.”
Shoreman is raising funds for Jack.org, a Canadian mental health organization for youth.
In 2018, he was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome—a condition that caused paralysis on one side of his face and other symptoms including fatigue, vertigo, as well as vision and hearing impairment.
He had to learn how to walk again. Doctors told him that even being around the water wouldn’t be an option. But he tried anyway.
The first time he got on the paddleboard after the diagnosis, he was only on it for three minutes. By the end of it, he was so sick and exhausted that he didn’t get off his couch for a day and a half. In the following weeks and months, he gradually increased the time spent on his board until he was able to stand on his own.
Despite the progress he’s made, paddleboarding is still difficult: he gets exhausted quickly on the water and when the air pressure changes, he says his system “deteriorates very quickly.”
Shoreman has written a memoir and is also a public speaker. In 2021, he was inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame and became the first Canadian with a disability to be awarded the 2020/2021 International Stand Up Paddleboarding Man of the Year Award.
Mental health advocacy
Shoreman’s illness has affected his independence, mobility, identity, work and social life, so it’s not surprising he eventually suffered a mental health crisis. He sought professional help and now openly shares his struggles with others who need help.
“I remember in my mental health journey, I felt very alone, and I think a lot of people do,” said Shoreman. “I don’t ever want kids to feel like how I felt.”
Jack.org is named after founder and executive director Eric Windeler’s son Jack, who committed suicide in 2010. The organization holds a host of youth programs, which aim to reduce the stigma and encourage people to get help when it comes to their mental health.
Windeler says he hopes that partnering with Shoreman will encourage others to get the help they need before they reach a point of crisis.
“Mental health is the biggest health related challenge for young people,” he said.
“We’ve learned that when you openly share your story, it lowers the barriers for other people reaching out for support.”