HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of Maui's most dominant canoe clubs made a major trade-off in order to honor a former teammate who was paralyzed in an accident.
The Wailea Canoe Club gave Orion Owens a seat in the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association championship regatta, even though he couldn't hold a paddle.
"It felt really good. Probably the fastest I've moved since I've been hurt," Owens said.
Originally from San Diego, the 23-year-old would paddle for Wailea during his family's annual Maui vacation.
He is now on-island undergoing therapy for his spinal cord injury. For the last year, he's been working to regain strength and movement in his body after a diving accident in Utah.
"I dove off the shore, into the lake, and just landed on my head. I broke my neck and was paralyzed instantly from the neck down," he said.
On race day, Owens sat in seat four. His teammates rigged one of the vessels so he'd have back support.
While he's able to use his arms now, he still can't move his fingers or hold a paddle.
"Even though he couldn't take a stroke, he did everything possible to make our canoe do something more than him just sitting down. He tried to bob his head and keep the rhythm. He tried to flow with us," said teammate Kekoa Cramer.
For a mile and a half, the team pushed hard, but lost to the first place team by just seconds.
"When we got back into the beach, there was a big tunnel everyone made for me and pulled me out in my chair and held me up. A little celebration," Owens said.
While the loss ended their winning streak, Wailea's men's team says this meant much more than any championship.
"A gold medal, a victory, we can replicate that. We can do that next year. We can do that next week. We can try that again," Cramer said. "But for him, it's something he might never get. It's something that's special for us."