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Keeping ‘Kayaking Kwanza’ in mind

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Sometimes life gets in the way of our passions. Since this is an outdoors column, we are going to place outdoors activities such as hunting, fishing, camping and hiking amongst others as our passion. Anyone who has lived any amount of time has experienced life messing with our best-laid plans.

It was several years ago, when I still made a living by punching a clock, that I wrote of this. Opening day of turkey season was on a Saturday, and wouldn’t you know it, I had to work that Saturday. I wrote a long, and somewhat humorous take, on why working on Saturday, well, sucked, and how it really sucked when the Saturday was opening day of turkey season. I mean, just exactly how was I going to get a turkey on opening day if I was working?

While I hated working Saturdays, I made the best of it but making light of it, and at the very worst, it gave me material to write about for my outdoors column. It also made a very nice gift.

You see, the paper ran the column on a Friday. I carried the paper to work on Saturday, went to the owner’s office, and neatly placed the front page of the sports section on the owner’s desk in which my headline and face were prominently displayed.

Of course, the owner wasn’t there Saturday, but come Monday I was called to the office over the intercom and we got a good chuckle out of it.

But for this column, I don’t want to focus on life getting in the way. I prefer to talk about how the outdoors enhances life. I know, “Bill, that is a full 180-degree swing in how you started this column.” It exactly is just that.

First, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Kwanza Henderson. In the social media/outdoors world, he is known as Kwanza “Kayaking” Henderson. We have been members of the Johnson Outdoors pro-staff together for the greater part of this decade. Johnson Outdoors is the parent company of Old Town kayaks and canoes, Ocean Kayaks, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Eureka and several other outdoors-related manufacturers. We served on the Johnson Outdoors Elite Council together as well.

Just a couple of months ago, when I found out I had a job in Florida, I contacted Kwanza about possibly targeting peacock bass during the stay. Kwanza lives in the Miami area, and peacock bass are one of my bucket list fish to catch. And as always, Kwanza was quick and willing in his response, just as I have been for him in the past.

Well, just the week of Thanksgiving, Kwanza had not been feeling well. In fact, he was feeling bad enough to take a visit to the emergency room. Sadly, what the doctors discovered was shocking. Kwanza, who is the epitome of health, was diagnosed with stage 4 small intestinal adenocarcinoma. Cancer had just reared its ugly head.

That is the bad part of the story. I know, you are probably going, “Bill, this is a perfect example of life getting in the way of your passions. Where are you going with this?”

And you are correct in thinking that. But here is where the outdoors beats life’s challenges. Quickly the outdoors community responded. One of our fellow pro-staffers who knew of the situation set up a GoFundMe page. No one was looking to make dreams come true or anything like that. This was just to help cover some expenses so Kwanza could concentrate on the important issues at hand, such as the coming surgery and chemo treatments. At the time of writing this column, more than $7,200 had been raised of a $10k goal, primarily to help with covering life’s expenses such as mortgage and other monthly costs.

Several kayak angling groups have started fundraisers and raffles in Kwanza’s name as well. The outdoors world has stepped in and stepped up. Not only can Kwanza worry less about how to pay for things while going through these treatments, but he feels the love from so many that have felt the love from him.

Kwanza’s first chemo treatment was scheduled on Christmas Eve. Hopefully you will think of this and do at least one of two things, either of which is fine.

One, looking up “Kwanza Fights the Biggest Bully” on and making a contribution, regardless of how large or small it may be. This, as mentioned, helps Kwanza in focusing on the important things directly ahead of him.

Second, hold everyone and every moment over this coming holiday a little more dear. Life can get in the way sometimes.

And as I once made light of in the pro-staffers’ group a few Christmas’ ago by posting a picture of an exuberant, smiling Kwanza “Kayaking’ Henderson, have a Happy “Kwanza.” (And a most MERRY CHRISTMAS!)

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.