CHICAGO — Mike Shoreman arrived at North Avenue Bach in Chicago at once exhilarated and exhausted. He’d just paddled 27-straight hours, across 44 miles from new Buffalo, Michigan to Chicago.  

“When people tell you that you can’t do something, it really motivates you,” Shoreman said.  

His is an improbable and inspiring story.  

Shoreman, 39, was a professional paddleboarding coach in Canada. In 2018, he was diagnosed with Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes facial paralysis, crippling pain and a number of other serious physical problems. It’s the same disorder that afflicts Justin Bieber.

“In my case, it was severe.” Shoreman said. “So, all of the nerves in my face shattered. I developed hearing impairments and vision impairments, speech impairments, and I spent a year learning how to walk again.” 

He also lost his balance, the critical skill needed to perform on a stand-up paddleboard.  

“The doctors said that I would never paddleboard again,” he said.  

The diagnosis left him in a deep depression. Just when he felt like giving up, a friend asked him to participate in a water safety demonstration for the media in Ontario.

“I had to reach for this lifeline and say ‘Yes,’” he said.   

Then another friend asked if he’d consider getting back on a paddleboard.  After balking, he decided to give it a try. The challenge was so fulfilling – and inspirational to others – he was asked to address “Speaker Slam,” Canada’s largest inspirational speaking competition.

“Saying yes again brought me back up to the surface,” he said. “When we say yes to ourselves one time, , just once, it makes it easier for us to say yes to ourselves the next time. Two yeses became three, and three became five, and before I knew it, I stopped saying ‘No’ to myself.” 

After strenuous rehab – he’s back on his long board – and calling himself the “Unbalanced Paddleboarder.”  

The sport is a cross between surfing and canoeing – requiring balance and endurance. Now he’s testing his own mettle to raise money form mental health programs via www.jack.org 

He’s crossing all five Great Lakes this summer on his paddleboard.

“You just have to go into it being as tough as you can be,” he told WGN right before he departed the shore of New Buffalo Beach in Michigan. “There is pain, it’s grueling, and I’m really looking forward to having a hot shower tomorrow in Chicago. My main message is saying ‘yes’ to yourself when you don’t think that you can do something.” 

On Aug. 10, he’ll attempt to cross Lake Ontario, for the last leg of his journey.