Cancer isn’t something you plan for. You’re living your life accordingly and then, suddenly, your world is turned upside down with the “what-ifs” that the disease causes. For Jack Shimko, a Newport Beach native and ocean enthusiast, the questions of uncertainty found their way from confusion and fear to a fuel of encouragement to find what he could plan for and what he did have control of. He would beat cancer and he would find a fuller and more philanthropic lifestyle to share with other ocean lovers like himself.
The news had knocked the wind out of him. Diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just days after his 29th birthday in 2009, Jack’s aquatic lifestyle, including an upcoming surf trip to Mexico, was halted and replaced with an intensive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. Told to stay out of the water due to his low white blood cell count, Jack worked around the system, replacing surfing with stand up paddleboarding, because, though he was told to stay out of the water, he wasn’t told not to stay on top of it. Finally, 16 weeks into his treatments, Jack got the OK from his doctors to actually be allowed to paddleboard. A week following the good news, Jack drove up to San Francisco to compete in the World Paddle Board Championship. Though finishing dead last and catching a bout of hypothermia, he still found the healing powers of the sport and the ocean, finishing with a huge smile on his face. Jack has been cancer free since his completion of treatment in 2010 and has since created a rather comprehensive list of accomplishments, including paddling over thousands of miles to raise cancer research funds. We talked to Jack about his journey from cancer diagnosis to launching his inspirational non-profit foundation We Are Ocean, and the positive effects it has had not only on himself but others as well.
Q: What was your life like before your diagnosis in 2009?
Jack Shimko: I was extremely active and adventurous. I did not have many fears and pushed my limits more often than not. I also owned and was the creative director at a small creative design co-op in Santa Monica. I recently sold it to focus on raising my daughter in Newport Beach and work full-time at We Are Ocean.
Q: Did your attitude towards a life of philanthropy come after your diagnosis or had it always been something you desired to take part in?
JS: I had always participated in philanthropy events but only as an outsider or to support someone else that was affected by something. My attitude changed throughout my own treatment and experiences in the world of cancer.
Q: Tell us about these charitable endeavors: Paddle2Live and We Are Ocean.
JS: Paddle2Live was a project that started in 2009. It was developed while undergoing chemotherapy at UCLA, and the project that led me to form We Are Ocean, a public benefit non-profit organization based in Newport Beach. Our mission is to improve the lives of cancer patients and survivors through ocean-based, active lifestyle camps and experiences. Throughout the Paddle2Live project I paddleboarded thousands of miles and raised awareness and funds in partnership with LIVESTRONG, the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Foundation Center and the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
Q: What changes have you seen in yourself since you founded We Are Ocean?
JS: The biggest change is that I gave up my career to work full-time for We Are Ocean and help other cancer patients and survivors. It was a big deal to my family and myself to take this step but I believe that there is a need for the types of things that we can offer.
Q: What has your favorite experience been within Paddle2Live and We Are Ocean?
JS: It’s hard to say. I thrive when things get tough, so my favorite would have to be Paddle2Live 2011. However, crossing the 32-mile Molokai Channel last summer with my great friend Patrick Towersey, for We Are Ocean, was pretty cool! The channel put us in line and really made us both understand the power of the ocean.
Q: How can people get involved in your foundation?
JS: People can join We Are Ocean by becoming a part of Team WAO, where you can set your own goal, create your own WAO page and help fundraise. People can volunteer for events, experiences or camps. People can donate. Small businesses can host an event and participate in our third party fundraising platform. There are many ways and all on our site: www.weareocean.org