Interview: Sarah Thornely (Supjunkie)
Photos: Warren Won, Philip Zave Photography & Darius Bashar Photography
PADDLESUP has become the war cry of thousands of paddle boarders all over the world after Canada’s Mike Shoreman became everybody’s darling by overcoming a debilitating illness with passion and determination, culminating with him becoming Supconnect Man of the Year 2020. I, like many others, have been fascinated with his story and have been supporting and sharing his news on social media for a couple of years – I knew, almost a year ago that this story would be good. Still, a year later on, it’s even better!
Mike, thank you for helping with this interview from across the water – for those who don’t know, can you let us know a little bit about yourself and your involvement in SUP?
Yeah, for sure! I began paddle boarding about 12 years ago. It was just beginning to take off in the big cities in Canada. The boom was just hitting, and I went for a lesson and fell in love – the love of my life. I’ve heard from so many that their first experience was a rough one, mine was! I was terrible – I spent 40 minutes of that hour in the water that day, but I loved it – every wipeout. Eventually, that hobby turned into a profession, and I became certified with Paddle Canada as an advanced level flat water instructor. I then went on to open a business sharing my love of the water and the beautiful skyline with amazing people, clients – many of whom became friends.
In November 2018, you were affected by a rare neurological condition which changed your life – it must have been a very distressing time – how did it affect you?
Wow, that was something. So, I returned from California in late October after going out there to set up a retreat partnership with a SUP business that also focused on paddle boarding at sunset and when I returned it all went south pretty quick. My face collapsed on the right side, hearing loss, speech and some vision problems and I lost my sense of balance from reactivation of my chickenpox virus attacking my ear. Physically it was excruciating. They compare it to both your knee caps being blown out. The exhaustion from it is something I still live with today, but I manage, and it’s not as bad as it was. I still take a lot of naps now! Mentally I think it was a lot more of a journey than the physical part. Losing your business and the life I built was like living in a nightmare. I lost my independence and my social life. I shut down emotionally, a huge depression. I closed people out, and it got dark really fast until that culminated in a trip to stay at a mental health treatment facility.
Who particularly helped you through this time?
There were so many things that did go right even though everything was going wrong. It seemed like it was just one knock after the next, with every appointment I’d go to for months, but I had a great support system in place. My parents were terrific. Not every parent wants to be taking care of their kid who is in their 30s, but they did, and so well with what they were given. I had friends who stuck with me when I was far from my best. The paddle boarding community learned about it slowly, and they were very gentle with me. Tony Horton, yeah, the fitness guru/legend from P90X, went through what I did a year or so before me, and he became this online friend and support to me, and his words and friendship changed everything for me.
After your illness, I understand you had to close your very successful SUP-related business – that must have been a tough decision?
I remember vividly sitting on the sofa and posting on all my social media platforms the announcement that the business would not be reopening. The reality had sunk in, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be possible. I could barely walk from my front door to the end of the driveway alone, so to be running something like a SUP business would be too much. I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been when I shut it all down – crushing! To lose something that you love, that you built its very emotional.
You are an advocate for Jack.org – can you tell us about that organization and why it resonates with you particularly?
Yeah, so Jack.org is an organization in Canada that trains and empowers youth to go into their communities and educate and train on mental health. Because of the journey I went on, I wanted to become involved with a mental health organization, and I felt this pull toward Jack.org. I believe youth are our future, and if we train them in becoming strong community leaders/difference makers, then future generations will benefit from that.
You have since been on a rollercoaster of public speaking, TV and radio engagements and now a book deal – we’ve been struggling to keep up! What’s been happening in the last year?
I’ve had a lot of exposure! Hopefully, you all aren’t sick of me yet! A lot of that media has been specific to whatever cause I am working with, whether it’s an organization for people with facial differences or mental health. I did start to get some corporate speaking jobs which were very exciting and then the pandemic hit and everything stopped. Initially, I thought, “Here we go again,” but then the pivot happened, and now the book is coming out!
How are you keeping your feet on the ground with all that has happened over the last year? Do you have strong friends and a family network?
I have a fantastic family who supports and loves me. I think it’s been a bit whirlwind for all of us. But yeah, I have incredible friends who know when to push me and know when to tell me to slow down, to remind me I still have this condition. They tell me to rest a lot. I sometimes listen! My friends in the Toronto paddle boarding community are like family. They rallied around me, and I have felt that. A great support system!
So much has happened in your life recently Mike – I understand you are now officially on the Starboard team – tell us how that happened?
It’s pretty cool. Last January I had done my first paddle boarding race in the Men’s 400 metres at the Toronto Indoor Boat Show. I wiped out a few times and had to do part of it sitting down. They allowed someone to be right beside me in case I ran into trouble with vertigo or dizziness, which was excellent, and I finished, which I was pleased with. I finished dead last! I crossed that finish line almost five minutes after the other boarders got off the water in front of me, but they all cheered me in.
Starboard was there and took notice and wanted to bring me on board with their brand but then the pandemic hit and things got pushed to the side.
Following my win as SUP Man of the Year, one of the Starboard reps contacted me and told me they’ve been watching and love me and my story and wanted to bring me on the brand as an ambassador. Pretty cool as that’s usually reserved for the prominent athletes. But super happy to be riding Starboard and representing them while I’m paddle boarding.
What is your hope for yourself, your paddling community and message for those involved in your journey?
The paddle boarding community is a force of ‘SUP’er heroes. Everywhere you look, you have people making huge impacts – it’s incredible. People are paddling for charities and raising awareness for causes that are important to them. I think it’s important we stick together and continue supporting each other because when we all come together, it’s a pretty powerful thing. As for me, I will continue sharing my story until people tell me to stop and I will continue working with organizations I am passionate about and doing whatever I can to raise the profile of the sport. I think what I need to say is ‘thank you’. Thank you for the love and support and for cheering me on. You have all touched me with your posts and sharing your stories with me. The beautiful friendships and relationships that have come from this, it’s been fantastic.
Corrie! But don’t tell people.
That’s our secret! I’ve been on set before. I’m a huge Tracy Barlow fan, and I think the character of Tracy would probably really benefit from paddle boarding. Would calm her down!
Mike, I do believe that you are one of the most inspirational people I have never met. You have given so much hope to many paddle boarders across the world, especially those suffering from illness and mental health issues. We love following your incredible story and know that there is so, so much more to come – keep paddling and thank you so much for your time!