“I want to thank everyone for the support you all have shown me over the past year,” Johnny said to the group standing underneath the blue and white cursive Walk on Water sign outside in the parking lot.
“It's been a great year of being on my SUP, and I would not have been able to accomplish this goal without all of your help.”
A chorus of praise and congratulations drifted through unseasonably warm March winds. He had done it. John Mikulski, known affectionately by his friends as Johnnny Bmore, is a man who a year ago had not even known what SUP was, had completed an entire year, 365 daily paddles, without taking a break. He had connected to an old love, that being the water, strengthened his existing ones with his family, and made a brand new set of friends in the SUP community through this challenging, exciting, and trying idea of being on a board everyday for a year.
Reflecting on how his life had taken this circuitous turn towards a new passion he didn't even know existed, he could not help but allow his mind to haphazardly drift to places and events which shaped the man who stood laughing with friends on this beautiful, warm day. Without choice, his thoughts took him back to one of the biggest events in his life.
“What happened?” he asked himself.
A moment ago he had been in complete control, swiftly gliding over the blacktop on his bike, performing stunts he had done many times before. But in an instant, it changed. Pain began to root through his foot, up his leg and into his body, seemingly spawning from the ground he lay upon. He felt around for the damage, incomprehensible at this moment of collision. He had been through this drill before- broken bones, bruises, scrapes, blood, and the long process of recovery, but this time, it was different, and he knew it.
Since the age of 18, Johnny began to ride motorcycles, receiving an old 500 street-bike around this time. He enjoyed the freedom the road possessed and the feeling of being alive. And from these deep springs of truth he knew to be flowing in his body, he began to push his limits, incorporating tricks into his riding. Wheelies, burnouts, stoppies and other various acrobatic stunts came to be staples in his basic, but still very dangerous, bag of tricks.
From there, he began to collect videos and tapes consuming every bit of media on the subject. Constantly feeding his obsession, he knew he was not alone, and this was going to grow. And so he practiced. And he began to attend motorcycle shows, competitions, produce and distribute his own DVDs, meddled in adding YouTube videos before it became popular, and riding the streets of Baltimore proudly displaying with his friends what they were able to do on these metal machines. This was his life, and he was happy to be a full participant in it.
Almost eleven years had passed from when he started in 1998 to the fateful day in September of 2009 when just moments ago he was gearing up to be a part of a stunt documentary directed by a well-known film maker out of Canada. The script was the same- collect new footage, interesting angles, chop it up into an interesting video and distribute it to the growing community of motorcycle stunt fanatics.
It had started the same way, with meeting the crew, lining up the shots, and choreographing what stunts to execute. It was all familiar, until it wasn't.
In an instant not calculable by the human brain, Johnny found himself lying on his back, his bike listlessly folded onto its side down the road. The crew, seeing what had happened, knew to get Johnny into a hospital as soon as possible, the damage had been done.
Johnny's wife, Wendi, a practicing nurse herself, upon hearing what had happened, rushed to make sure he was alright, and to find out how badly he had been hurt.
“Mr. Mikulski, your leg needs to be amputated from above the knee. The damage done to the bone and joints in your knee and foot are far too extensive. You will be in tremendous pain for the rest of your life if we try to keep it attached. This is the better way,” the doctor calmly explained.
“No,” Johnny solemnly stated, “I am not giving you permission to cut off my leg.”
“I understand your hesitation, but I can assure you Mr. Mikulski, the amount of pain you will be in for the rest of your life because of this accident will most likely be unbearable. It's either you get it amputated now, or possibly in the future.”
Lying in his bed, Johnny tried to recall the accident in his mind.
“What happened?” he asked. This simple question now haunted his every thought.
He saw the beginning clearly in his head. He was performing a simple wheelie maneuver of which he had executed gracefully countless times. And then...confusion. It all transpired so quickly. In less than an instant he was fine, and immediately after he found himself rolling uncontrollably down the street, waiting for the momentum to halt his tattered body. Without knowing what had happened, he tried to stand up, oblivious to his pain. But his body wouldn't allow it. The damage had occurred. And it had left him shaken.
“No,” he told the doctor, “I am going to keep my leg as it is.”
Upon being discharged from the hospital, it was immediately apparent how debilitating Johnny's injuries actually were. He could not move without help, he could not dress himself without help, he obviously could not walk, and relied heavily on the strength and boundless compassion of his wife Wendi. She and Johnny's daughter, Haley, became his metaphorical and literal crutch. Without them, his rehabilitation would have never happened. They also helped him conquer a much deeper result of the accident- depression.
Johnny had lost his passion, his purpose for being, and because of the enigma of the accident which left him crippled, he did not see himself continuing down the path of which he had previously found so much fulfillment. A part of himself had died that day. And it was replaced by doubt, anxiety, and depression. If he did not know who he was any longer, what could he do with his life? The invisible scars of his decline into mental obscurity were in some ways much more difficult to overcome than his physical ones. Fortunately, the answers were surrounding him everyday of his recovery.
He decided to become a better father, a better husband, and to pursue a new career in which he would be able to use his media and production skills in a way in which would allow him to be present for his young children and his wife. He had discovered a job on the eastern shore of Maryland, and was determined to keep the thoughts of the accident in the past, where they had already taken place.
A new, fortuitous turn had taken place in Johnny's life and not only because he had a new job. It was also because it allowed him the chance to reconnect to an old love- the water. As a child he had grown up around the water with his father, around sailboats, and loved the serene calm of the waves gently collapsing onto the beach. With his mother, he would often spend days exploring calm tributaries and canals, kayaking among the sea grass beaten down by the wind. And with the reemergence of this love, he began to think of ways to reconnect to the water in his present life.
“Johnny, do you want to try paddle boarding with me?” Wendi asked in the spring. “It might be a fun and relaxing way to enjoy the water that we both can do.”
Without much thought put into it, he decided to tag along. Heading into a small rental place in Ocean City on the bay, Wendi and Johnny rented a couple boards and paddled out. For Johnny, the obsession started slow. He fell in. Many times. His body hurt as his balance had still not recovered from his injuries. His leg seared with pain, his shoulders burned when he paddled, and somewhere along the line of his many crashes and injuries, he had developed seasickness and motion sickness from the amount of unhealed head injuries he had sustained. But, he thought to himself, there was something about the feeling of being on the water, the way it glided through the open bay, underneath a warm sun, splashing along a rough eastern shore beach, that made Johnny feel alive once again.
A few months had passed since he had been on a SUP, but he had continued to rent boards with his wife from a local shop in West Ocean City called Walk on Water. With each new time stepping onto the hard surface and gliding into new possibilities, he felt his life expanding. SUP had allowed him the doorway to a new possibility, one he thought had long since passed due to his injuries. It gave Johnny a new hobby, a new way to enjoy the natural space he was surrounded by, and after a few months he found himself standing inside the shop, trying to justify the purchase of his first board ever.
Was it too much money?
Would he use it enough?
Would it sit dormant next to his house, decaying from stillness, a wasted purchase of which he could not take back?
No, he thought, this was something else. This was the first time he sat on a motorcycle, the first time he landed a trick, the first DVD he produced. It was the same feeling all over again. One that he knew he needed to pursue.
With money saved from a good year at his job, he purchased two Evolve paddle boards for him and his wife for Christmas. And as the weather began to turn in spring Wendi and Johnny began to paddle more frequently. They explored new possible spots around town, finding themselves seeing their home from a new perspective on the water. And Johnny's balance began to improve. The pain in his leg persisted but it became manageable. Flexibility began to return to his shoulders and he began to just keep going. He became consistent in his actions. And through this consistency he began to see major improvements.
With his body beginning to alter, his depression also began to lift. And in the telescope of the future, he spotted a new possibility- surfing. With the guidance of a local friend, Mark Nelson, Johnny was able to surf a local spot known for its comfy, easy rides when the swell and tides lined up correctly. It was there he caught his first waves. And it is also where he caught a whole new obsession.
To Johnny, paddle boarding mirrored the feeling of freedom and the sense of being alive that closely resembled his time on a bike, but surfing, surfing was it. Encapsulated in the moment of taking off on a wave and shooting down the line with the edge of the water spraying into your smiling face, that was the same as feeling the wind flowing through your clothes on a warm spring day nestled on the power of an engine propelling you towards no destination at all. Surfing also had no destination. It had no purpose. It was just a moment of stillness in a life that always seemed to move towards something and nothing. In surfing, Johnny found he was only moving toward the feeling of life. The path of least resistance. The quiet mind of which countless spiritual practices speak of. In that first moment of paddle and propulsion, he had done it. He had found again what it meant to be alive.
And so his passion grew to include new boards, ranging from downwind to smaller surf styles, new techniques, and a new life. He also found that after a few months of paddling that he had not taken a day off.
“What if I paddled for an entire year?” he joked one day with Wendi, “That would be crazy.”
But the joke never seemed to stop. Instead it became an actual, attainable goal. Through snow, and ice, and rain, and broken boards, and borrowed boards, and countless other obstacles, Johnny continued on his quest for 365 days in a row of paddling. Through it all he acquired lessons that would stick with him for the rest of his life.
SUP had taught him patience. It is obvious, even to those not involved in water sports, that the ocean and bay can be a very humbling place. And previously, Johnny's drive of conquering self goals and pushing forward had served him well. He was a success in the motorcycle stunt world and now a success at marketing and content production for his new job. But the ocean is not as forgiving. Conditions change, sometimes in an hour, tides go in and out, weather affects every aspect of paddling and surfing, and through this humbling experience, Johnny learned to allow. He learned to go with the flow, to follow the path of least resistance instead of running full speed down that path and smashing anything that got in his way. Rather, he learned to meditate and focus on what makes him feel alive, and to chase that instead. And he learned to remain open to new possibility.
His body was broken, it was hurt, he still has constant seasickness from multiple concussions of which he self-medicates with Dramamine every time he goes to surf, but everyday he decides to never yield to his weaknesses. He knows what makes him feel alive. And so he pursues it anyway. And on March 18th, the exact date a year earlier when he started, Johnny reached his goal. He had successfully paddled for 365 days straight.
Huddling together in front of Walk on Water, Johnny, his wife Wendi, his children and his support crew from the shop, took a group photo, each with gigantic smiles on their faces. It was in celebration of a goal completed under very difficult conditions. But it was also something more. Much more. It was in celebration of what we all can be. The power of human potential to adapt, grow, and achieve. And that is what SUP gave to Johnny. And what Johnny gives to the sport of SUP and its community, every time he steps on a board.
Johnny lives and works in Ocean City, MD. Through his efforts he gained a full sponsorship from the Evolve Paddleboard Company, supplying him with boards, tips, and motivation to keep pushing. He ended up completing 418 days of paddling in a row. An accomplishment not to be diminished! SUP taught Johnny many lessons about life, but it also opened up avenues for other activities once thought not possible. If he isn't enjoying the water you can also find him messing around on his Hamboard longboard, actively playing with his children, and standing on the beach looking for that next wave.