Mike Shoreman thought he’d never stand up again on a paddleboard, a sport he has loved and taught for years.

In early 2019, Shoreman was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a devastating illness caused by chicken pox virus he had as a kid that had reactivated. The attack left him with facial paralysis, vertigo, dizziness, speech and vision problems, and — the worst for a stand-up paddleboarder — a loss of balance.

Shoreman was told he would never again stand on a paddleboard. “I couldn’t breathe, I was drowning,” Shoreman said in a speech for Speaker Slam, a Canadian inspirational speaking series, after hearing the news. “I was now an unbalanced paddleboarder.”

He shuttered his paddleboard teaching business and his mental health deteriorated. “In the mirror for months, I saw a monster. I didn’t want to be seen in public,” he said.

A lifeline came via an email from the Canadian Safe Boating Council, asking him to be their water safety expert for their media day, something he had done in the past. A paddleboarder with a severe medical disorder who can barely stand conducting a safety demonstration? It seemed like a cruel joke until Shoreman saw it as a way out of his hell.

His journey back on the board, with the help of friends, began with him being able to sit on one for three minutes. “Let me tell you, as a 35-year-old guy who has needs,” Shoreman says in the video as he thrusts and grinds his pelvis to audience applause, “it was the most satisfying three minutes I’ve had in the last year.”

Shoreman eventually willed himself to stand up on a board and went on to conduct the safety demonstration.

For his inspirational story, Shoreman, who is openly gay, was named Man of the Year by SUO Connect, a major stand-up paddleboarding magazine. In honoring him at an awards ceremony this summer, the magazine wrote:

Canada’s Mike Shoreman is the inspirational powerhouse of the sport. Known as ‘The Unbalanced Paddleboarder’ he is one of the most respected names in the International SUP community. A true ambassador of the sport and former Paddle Canada SUP coach. Mike lost his sense of balance from a neurological condition in 2018. After retraining his brain to walk normally again Mike returned to the water in 2019 as the SUP Safety Expert for the Canadian Safe Boating Council Media Day. His rise continued as he then won Canada’s largest inspirational speaking competition. His award-winning speech “PADDLES UP” went viral on several platforms including The Power of Positivity and Ashton Kutcher’s site and has racked up 3.2 million views online. His speech unified the International SUP community with a movement where hundreds of paddleboarders raised their paddles up in their countries in support of those living with physical and mental health challenges. We can’t wait to see what he does next.

Shoreman was the first openly gay man to win the award in its 11-year history. He came out in high school, and when he opened a paddleboarding business one of his goals was to provide “a safe place for the community to come to and for people to be themselves,” he told Outsports.

“I think it’s important to be visible, especially in sports because we don’t know who is watching and how that can help someone with their path. Sports can be an inclusive and diverse thing. Don’t ever think you don’t have a place in the world of sports because of who you love.”

One of the messages that most struck me in Shoreman’s amazing inspirational talk was his advice to those struggling with whatever issue they are dealing with: “When facing rough waters we have two options — sink or swim. Saying yes again brought me back to the surface.”

You can follow Shoreman on Instagram, with the fitting name The Unbalanced Paddleboarder.