Taking steps to raise awareness
“One toot (of the horn) makes me go 15 steps farther,” said Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga, the 41-year-old Hilo native who’s making an around-the-island trek to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy and funds to support keiki with disabilities. “One horn pushes me more.”
Sampaga, who has muscular dystrophy, which affects his leg muscles, reached the Kailua-Kona Fire Station about 5:45 p.m. Thursday after walking approximately 129 miles through South Hilo, Puna, Ka‘u, South Kona and North Kona since leaving Hilo town Jan. 14. Sampaga, who didn’t do much walking beyond to the car or store before starting this effort, averages 10 to 14 miles per day. The most he walked in one day was 16 miles.
“I’m so proud of him,” said his 14-year-old daughter, Keahi Sampaga, who also has muscular dystrophy and walked 10 miles alongside her father Jan. 14. “I’m surprised he could walk this far.”
Muscular dystrophy is a group of more than 30 genetic diseases characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of skeletal muscles that control movement, according to the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Some forms of muscular dystrophy are seen in infancy or childhood, while others may not appear until middle age or later. There is no treatment to stop or reverse any form of muscular dystrophy, but treatments can help treat the symptoms and prevent complications.
Sampaga will leave from mile marker 129 on Mamalahoa Highway headed toward Waimea by 4 a.m. Monday. When the journey is complete, he will have traversed more than 300 miles.
Sampaga expressed his appreciation for the support every Big Island community and passing motorist has provided.
“These people,” Sampaga said with tears coming from his eyes, “they are all my supporters.”
The trek, nicknamed “Operation Walk for Dreams,” is just one project of his nonprofit, Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy. With every step Sampaga takes, he said he hopes to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy and raise money to support his nonprofit’s effort to purchase two canoes to take keiki with disabilities paddling in waters off Hilo.
In all, Sampaga is hoping to raise $25,000 to secure those canoes and any additional funds will be used to secure equipment and fund future “operations” such as a three-man tag-team triathlon.
With the canoes, he wants keiki with disabilities, not just muscular dystrophy, to experience the sport of paddling, which he called his “passion” and “love.” After not being able to pass a physical exam for baseball in the sixth grade, Sampaga said he took up paddling, which he continues today.
Though he currently takes keiki with disabilities out on Hilo Bay in borrowed canoes, Sampaga hopes to secure canoes for the nonprofit to take the effort to the next level. In the future, he hopes to work with regattas to possibly include a race for the children he will teach to paddle with the hoped-for canoes.
“I love to see the love, their happiness and looking at their smiles,” he said about why, despite being in pain and having to stop every couple of miles to massage and maintain his feet, he’s making the around-the-island trek. “I tell myself, ‘they never going get the chance (to compete)’ so this is my time to give them a chance.”
So far, via “Operation Walk for Dreams,” he and his supporters have raised about $3,000, said Karen Kalani, the nonprofit’s treasurer.
On Saturday, a couple dozen family members and supporters spent the day along Palani Road, near the Kona Shopping and Lanihau centers, hoisting signs, cheering, singing and collecting donations.
Passing motorists seemed more than happy to contribute, many “tooting” their horns in support of Sampaga. One driver even handed the volunteers a box full of change while the Brothers of Hawaii Motorcycle Club contributed a wad of cash totaling $171.
Eleven-year-old Jaden Ah Mow was one of many volunteers who came from Hilo to Kailua-Kona to support Sampaga’s efforts Saturday. He opted to hold his sign farther down the hill of Palani Road to give motorists ample time to gather any donations for Sampaga’s effort by the time they reached the light.
“I want to show (passing motorists) that they can help stop muscle disease,” he said. “And, I want Uncle Daryl to help others so that the kids get to paddle the seas because it’s fun.”
While Sampaga initially estimated it would take him six months to complete the journey around Hawaii Island, he is making good time and expects to be home well in time for his wife, Georgie’s, birthday on March 21.
He invited community members, many of whom have walked with Sampaga already on his venture, to join him for the last several miles of his journey.
“I like everybody follow me from Kamehameha Statue where I will sleep the last night to Nanimau Gardens,” he said.
Follow Sampaga’s journey on Instagram at #OSMD. To donate or for more information, visit osmdhawaii.com.