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‘Operation Walk for Dreams’ takes man on island journey

January 13, 2014 - 8:19am

Hilo native Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga’s passion for paddling, children and raising awareness about muscular dystrophy has given him the courage to conquer Hawaii Island — by foot.

It’s a challenging task for a man whose legs have been significantly effected by the muscular disease.

“I’m not finishing the island for me. I’m going to face the island for the keiki,” he said. “This is my calling.”

Throughout the course of next year, Sampaga, 41, will miss his wedding anniversary, his children’s birthdays and will sleep on the side of the road in a van as he attempts to battle his way across the island all in the name of a good cause.

He’s calling it “Operation Walk For Dreams.” For weeks he’s been raising funds through his nonprofit organization, Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy, and any money raised from the walk will go toward the purchase of two Hawaiian canoes Sampaga will use to teach handicapped keiki how to paddle.

The slogan of OSMD is “Block Out Muscle Disease, Pursue Happiness,” which speaks to his overall attitude about living with a handicap.

“We don’t focus on finding a cure; we focus on finding what can make us happy now,” he said.

His journey to make a difference started after his daughter was diagnosed with the disease. Having spent many years hiding his ailment from those around him, Sampaga, who refers to himself as “stubborn,” had a change of heart.

“Sometimes, I would catch myself staring at people. I might envy their thighs and their calves. I used to grumble, ‘Why me? Why me, God?” he said. “But then I realized I was given this disease for a reason.”

So with a mission in mind, Sampaga reached out to local community members, friends and family, and even Mayor Billy Kenoi to help him accomplish the walk.

“Him and his wife and kids were at Ken’s and we’re sitting outside talking story and he said can I help him with something, and I said anything,” Kenoi said. “He lifted up his pants and told me his story and I thought ‘Wow, why you never tell me? Why you never let me know.’”

Kenoi offered to spread the word and called upon volunteers from the county police and fire departments who will help send Sampaga off when he takes his first steps at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Nani Mau Gardens.

“You hear about MD, but it’s different when you get a friend or a coach or someone close to you. It relates to you,” Kenoi said.

Sampaga will start his walk headed toward Ka’u and is encouraging the public to walk with him. You can keep track of Sampaga’s journey on Facebook by “liking” OSMD Hawaii, or follow the group on Twitter.