Changing lives — one step at a time

LIHUE — Hilo resident Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga has a slogan — one he lives by each and every day.

“Never give up,” he says.

In middle school, Sampaga was a star little league pitcher. Baseball was his passion.

Then, in eighth grade, a doctor told Sampaga, who has muscular dystrophy, it was no longer safe for him to play. He failed a physical examination and had to give up his favorite sport.

“My dreams were crushed,” he said.

For years, Sampaga questioned why he was dealt such an unfortunate card in life. Children teased him, and on a number of occasions, he got into fights to defend himself.

“All my life, I was so shamed,” he said.

At age 42, however, he’s found his calling in life.

“It took me 40 years to realize why this happened to me,” he said. “It’s to help others.”

Next week, Sampaga will bring his message of hope and standing against bullying to the Garden Isle. And he will deliver it to island schools and churches via a more than 100-mile trek around the island — on foot and by canoe.

Last year, Sampaga and his nonprofit, Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy, made waves when Sampaga traversed the Big Island on foot to raise awareness about his disease and funds to purchase a pair of canoes so children with disabilities could experience the joy of paddling — a passion of his that doesn’t require a doctor’s approval.

Sampaga completed the more than 200-mile journey on Big Island in just 26 days.

The Kauai trek, dubbed “Operation Paddle and Walk for Dreams — Kauai Island 2015,” will begin Jan. 17 with a 32-mile paddle along the Na Pali coast, beginning in Hanalei. After that, Sampaga will hit the pavement and, fighting against what he describes as “deteriorating” leg muscles, will walk from Barking Sands back to Hanalei.

“I’ve never been to Kauai in my life,” he said, with excitement in his voice.

Along the way, Sampaga will visit 16 schools and three churches, raising awareness about muscular dystrophy and encouraging students to dream big and pursue happiness.

“Don’t be afraid to come out in the front and never give up,” he says. “If I can, you can.”

Sampaga plans to walk 10 miles and visit up to three schools per day.

Bill Arakaki, Kauai Complex Area superintendent, said Kauai schools are ready to welcome Sampaga with open arms.

“This is an opportunity for students and schools to assist and support Sammy in his journey to bring awareness of MD and anti-bullying efforts,” he said.

Sampaga suffers from Charcot–Marie–Tooth (CMT) disease, one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, affecting 1 in 2,500 people in the United States, according to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Muscular dystrophy is a group of more than 30 genetic diseases characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of the skeletal muscles that control movement.

Two of Sampaga’s five children were also born with the disease.

While the Kauai project is primarily about raising awareness, donations are welcome.

For more information or to support Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy, call (808) 987-8507 or visit osmdhawaii.com.

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