‘The freedom to do what I do’

KAPAA — There was a time when Kauai County Vice Chair Mason Chock, Sr. could never see himself going into politics or become one of the faces of local government.

At that time, the Wailua Homesteads resident said he was still a part of the Kauai Fire Department and had seen what involvement in government had done to many of the people he looked up to.

“I had seen people who I admire and came in at the time I did with this gung ho spirit and were like, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to that,’ but within a short period of time, even five years, they were disenfranchised — you couldn’t even get anywhere with it,” Chock said.

And that’s how it was for more than a decade until his life took an unexpected turn one afternoon in 2005.

On that day, Chock recalled he and other firefighters were on board a helicopter bound for the Na Pali Coast to rescue a woman who broke her ankle while hiking.

The call itself, he said, was a routine one but that changed toward the end of their flight, when an oil leak caused the helicopter to crash into Mount Waialeale.

Remarkably, there was a stroke of luck to the whole ordeal.

Had he and the other crew members been in the air for at least 20 to 30 seconds longer, their helicopter would have dropped off the mountain.

“This isn’t the only big lesson in growth but it was one of them that taught me about acceptance, because I thought I would be a firefighter forever … but it didn’t happen,” Chock recalled during a talk story session at Saturday’s Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association meeting at Kapaa Public Library where he shared his experiences with about 25 people. “It set me on a different path.”

He broke his back and ruptured three disks in his spinal cord as a result of the accident.

In all, Chock said he was out of work for about three and a half months while he underwent vocational rehabilitation services.

When he returned to work, Chock said he was given two choices: take up a desk job or retire from the department with the benefits.

He chose the latter.

It was a move that, Chock said, was the “biggest blessing in my life.”

“It allowed me the freedom to do what I do now and I wouldn’t be who I am today, which is the opportunity to meet many, many other healers who helped me on my way to recovery,” Chock said. “I still suffer with back pain but I would never have learned those things about myself and others in the world, so I just feel blessed.”

Chock now serves as the president and owner of Kupu Ae: Kauai Team Challenge, an outdoor experiential education company and an active member of Malama Huleia, a Kaiola Canoe Club project aimed at eradicated red mangrove from the Huleia River in Nawiliwili.

Although his time as a county council member has been short, his presence on the seven-member board has been seen as an integral one.

On Nov. 16, the day after he was sworn into office, his first vote as a councilman was cast as a swing vote in favor of the council’s override on Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.’s veto on Bill 2491.

“People know that this move by the council to get the seventh person in there for a particular vote and get action around this bill can be looked upon as manipulative, and I wouldn’t disagree,” Chock told The Garden Island on the day he was sworn in. “However, I come in with a clear conscience knowing what my kuleana is and knowing that I have a decision to make.”

And there is room for improvement, he said, but the key is moving forward together.

It was the only reason that he decided to eventually accept his current position on the council as its vice chair.

“It’s hard for me to sit in a council meeting and not start to think about the process rather than the decision that I need to make right now in front of me, because I see so many things that we can do much better,” Chock said. “I’m not saying that we have to agree on everything, but we need to be able to move forward in the right direction together.”

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