3 legally blind athletes tackle outrigger canoe race

Team with challenged athletes among finishers

SAN DIEGO - An estimated 2,000 people loaded into their canoes on Saturday and hit the bay in the Hanohano Crystal Pier Outrigger Canoe Race.

R.J. De Rama paddled as part of the Makapo Aquatics Project, which is a charity that gets blind and visually-impaired athletes involved in sports. De Rama had cancer in his eyes at age two. Because of the radiation, his eyesight started to go when he hit 30.

"Devastating is probably the best word," De Rama said. "As a guy, your life is basically defined by what you do."

What he could not do was drive, so he lost his job as a pharmaceutical rep.

"As independent as we like to make our lives, we always have to look for some sort of help," he said. "I think outrigger paddling just shows what that sort of teamwork can do in helping each other."

The teamwork was about three sighted guys from the Newport Aquatic Center pushing three legally blind guys. There were no extra accommodations and no special treatment.

Through a kid's eyes, that is pretty cool. Nicholas Taragan was on the youth team a tent over.

"It's nice to know that they're trying, and they have hope," he said.

They also had this message.

"It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter,” De Rama explained. "As long as you work hard and you surround yourself with good people, you'll make the right choices and you'll get there."

They got to third place out of more than two dozen teams and their message seemed to be spreading to at least one kid.

"I don't think it matters," Taragan said about paddling blindly. "Anyone can enjoy this sport."

De Rama sure seems to.

"For myself, being able to do this has just been a life-changing experience," he said.

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