Giving Thanks For Luke’s Life

Luke Evslin and Uncle Ron after the Luke’s ThanksGeevum Race

Luke Evslin stood on a grassy hill at Kailua Beach staring out at the horizon as dozens of paddlers hammered home to the finish line. Evslin braced himself with the aid of crutches, smiling and cheering on friends and strangers competing in the Luke’s ThanksGeevum Race from Makapuu and Waimanalo beach parks.

It was a powerful image. Just six weeks ago, Evslin, one of Hawaii’s finest paddlers and canoe builders, nearly died.

“I wouldn’t miss this,” he says. His being there was huge for the paddling community. It was great to see how well he had recovered from a near-death propeller accident in October’s Molokai Hoe.

Being there was huge for Evslin too. It was his way of extending his appreciation for the prayers and well-wishes received from paddlers all across the world.

“I wanted to be here to thank everyone for all of their support,” says Evslin, who flew from his home on Kauai to attend the race in his honor.

The race was organized by Kailua Canoe Club and was open to OC-1, OC-2, OC-6 and paddleboard racers. More than 225 paddlers from all across Oahu participated in the fundraiser.

“10-10-10 is a day I will never forget,” says Kailua Canoe Club coach Hank Leandro, as he fought back the tears while recalling the horrific accident on Oct. 10 off Molokai. “That night I sat here thinking about how close we came to losing him, and then my phone rings and it’s Luke calling from Maui Memorial Medical Center. He called to tell me ‘Coach, I’ll be OK.'”

Evslin was injured moments after jumping off a motorized escort boat about two miles off Molokai. The boat’s propeller sliced through him in five different areas on his back, but miraculously the blade missed all critical arteries, organs and his spinal cord.

“His injuries were so severe,” recalls Leandro, who applied first aid along with Evslin’s crew mates. “It was a long trip back to Hale o Lono Harbor (where medics were waiting).”

Days after Evslin returned to Kauai to recover, Leandro asked him if he could put on a fundraiser race to help with medical bills. Initially, Evslin balked, saying it wasn’t necessary, but eventually agreed. Leandro says that’s when he received another unexpected phone call.

“Several minutes later, Luke calls back and says, ‘Coach, it’s OK to have a fundraiser, but let’s give the proceeds to Pure Light,'” recalls Leandro. “I was blown away.”

Project Pure Light is a nonprofit organization that provides physically, mentally and emotionally challenged individuals the opportunity to participate in ocean recreation and sports programs, primarily through Hawaiian outrigger canoes.

“I wasn’t comfortable receiving money,” Evslin said, as several Pure Light competitors raced to the finish line. “I was in a wheelchair for only three weeks. Many Pure Light paddlers don’t have that option, yet they’re doing what they’re doing and competing. That is special.”

What was even more special on this day was that Pure Light crew members paddled in a canoe Evslin helped build.

“I am overwhelmed by the maturity of this young man who understands that it’s not about me, me, me,” says Project Pure Light co-founder Aka Hemmings. “He understands the whole canoe is greater than the sum of its parts. Luke has taught all of us a valuable lesson.”

The 25-year-old Evslin has learned much after surviving the accident. He says he’s learned to appreciate life, family and friends so much more.

“Ever since the accident I’ve been telling everybody how much I love them,” he laughs. “And it hasn’t stopped.”

His new life is just beginning and he’s already making the most of a second chance.

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