On June 20, 2020, 71-year-old Paul Hirsh will be paddling around Vashon Island in a 19ft kayak for The Longest Day. Paul is paddling in honor of his mother, who had Alzheimer’s, and his father, who was her primary caregiver.
Paul lives in Gig Harbor, WA on Wollochet Bay. Paul and his wife Charlotte have three daughters and 10 grandkids. Paul grew up an athlete. He ran marathons up until five years ago when he switched to competitive paddling.
He claims he got his athleticism from his mother: “She was bubbling over with athleticism and enthusiasm. She would challenge her grandkids to run 10Ks and stuff like that. She was a mother of seven, and helped raise my kids and my nieces and nephews. She was the extrovert in the family. She challenged herself, she challenged her kids and her grandkids,” he said.
Ten years ago, Paul’s mother died of Alzheimer’s disease, and his father died shortly after. Paul believes the stress of caregiving is what ultimately led to his father’s death. “My father was an obsessive caregiver, which I think also caused him to become a casualty of Alzheimer’s. It’s hard on the caregivers,” he said.
Losing his mother to the disease was hard for his whole family. “It reaches beyond the primary caregiver and to the rest of the family. So, the whole family got a little bit screwed up as a result of the thing, you know? And, ten years later, we are still trying to overcome some of those problems,” he said. In addition to losing his parents, one of his wife’s brothers died from the disease and another is currently living with dementia. This disease is one that Paul and his family know all too well.
Paul has the route for his kayak journey planned out and said the tides will work in his favor the day of his paddle. “I want to paddle around Vashon in a clockwise direction starting from Gig Harbor. I will go up the West side of Vashon Island all the way to the Vashon ferry landing. From there, I will go to Port Robinson, and then back down past Tacoma and back to Gig Harbor,” he said. “I will probably take a 19 ft kayak so that I would be prepared to stay overnight in the event that I need to. Although, I am trying to do it in a 12-hour stretch.”
While he intends to do the journey alone, Paul said that if anybody who is part of his paddling club, Kikaha o Ke Kai, wanted to tag along, he would be fine with that as well!
Paul hopes that his The Longest Day event will raise awareness and keep Alzheimer’s at the top of his family’s mind. In addition to this, he wants to spread the message about the need to proactively take care of oneself physically and mentally: “Challenge your mind and challenge your body no matter how old you are. Whether you are eight or 88, you can still look for ways to challenge yourself,” he said.
Being a grandpa of 10, Paul also hopes that he can bring Alzheimer’s awareness to younger generations and that more people will work to do the same. “I think it would be good if we could find a way for young kids to understand this disease a little bit more or at least be aware of it. I think the earlier kids know why their great grandparents passed away, or their grandparents are sick, or their uncles don’t make sense anymore. If there is some gradual way to come to some kind of compromise, that would be good. Maybe these personal challenges are a way to do it,” he said.
Want to plan your own event or turn your hobby into a fundraiser for The Longest Day? Visit alz.org/tld for more information!
STATEMENT REGARDING COVID-19: The Alzheimer’s Association is closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19. Our top priorities are the health and safety of our participants, volunteers, staff and constituents. The Longest Day is currently moving forward as planned. We recommend that participants continue with virtual fundraising efforts and adhere to CDC guidelines when planning in-person fundraising activities. For specific inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.