What began as a lonely journey ended in a triumphant homecoming.
About 300 people showed up Saturday morning by the Kamehameha statue on the Hilo Bayfront to cheer on Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga as he prepared for the final 4 1/2 miles of his arduous around-the-island walk. Sampaga’s “Operation Walk for Dreams” concluded at its starting point, Nani Mau Gardens on Hilo’s southern outskirts.
Sampaga, a 41-year-old Hiloan, has muscular dystrophy that affects his leg muscles, and took on the torturous trek to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy and to buy two Hawaiian canoes to teach disabled keiki how to paddle.
As Sampaga and his family crossed Kamehameha Avenue on foot toward Bishop Street, Tahitian drums heralded their arrival and a loud roar went up from those in attendance. Sampaga was sporting a fluorescent green T-shirt, shorts, shoes and ball cap with tie-dyed pink and white socks. His ballcap had the initials OSMD, as did his shirt, which stands for “Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy” — the name of his nonprofit foundation. The back of Sampaga’s shirt bore the slogan that helped him push through the pain: “Never give up.”
As he approached the flatbed tow truck that served as the stage for his homecoming, Sampaga pushed a wheelchair carrying his 14-year-old daughter, Keahi “Bubu” Sampaga, who also has muscular dystrophy.
Sampaga said his body and mind were “shutting down,” but he mustered the energy to address supporters for more than a half hour. He noted that he was “not pau yet. Still get 4 1/2 miles to go.”
“If you can, please join me,” he said. He added that it’s “my time, my calling to take care of people who are like me.”
“I was born with this disease,” he said. “My mom has it. My daughter has it. This family has it and it’s hereditary.”
Sampaga noted that he began his journey on Jan. 14. A 200-mile plus walk he thought would take six months was completed in a little more than three weeks. Thanking those in attendance, he said he was “overwhelmed and tired.”
“I started my journey at Nani Mau Gardens, and two minutes before my walk, I cry, cry, cry,” he said. “I look at my wife and said, ‘Babe, I no like go. I scared. But me, I’m one big dreamer and when I dream something, I goin’ do ’em. I’m goin’ fulfill my dream. … My passion is for helping keiki like me. So I started this foundation and our slogan is ‘never give up.’
“I used to swear at my mom every day. Why? Why you give me this disease? Why? I like play baseball. Why me? Forty years (it) took to thank God about this disease. Forty years. I realized why. So I can help other keikis. … My daughter swears at me every day … and I don’t swear back at her because I know how it feels.”
Sampaga said it was lonely at first and nobody outside his small support crew walked with him.
“So I walk, walk. Mountain View to Volcano, I walk. Hours and hours and hours. And I cry. And I say, ‘Where are my friends? Where are my family? How come nobody show up today.’”
He said he thought of Jesus, and his daughter and brother, both deceased, and prayed. A day later, a guy pulled up and walked with him, and each day more people joined the walk.
The money — his goal was $25,000 — was another story. When Sampaga got to Ocean View, he’d raised only $300.
“I could’ve had one car wash, raised more money,” Sampaga said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “But it’s not about the money. … I goin’ do this for all the keikis.”
Sampaga said that at Manuka State Wayside Park between Ocean View and Milolii, a man “came out of the bushes.”
“He said, ‘Sammy, I got something for you,’” Sampaga said. “He stick his hand in his pocket and it scared me. I didn’t know if he had a knife, or marijuana or one rock or whatever. So I look at him and he said, ‘This is for you. … This is my last $2.’ I said, ‘No. keep it and bless yourself.’ He said, ‘This is for your foundation.’ I said no again. And the third time, I remembered what the Bible said. … The third time, he’ll be blessed.
“So I took those $2 and put ’em on the dashboard next to my (support) driver and cried and walked. I said, ‘That guy could’ve bought one Snickers. He could’ve bought water. He could’ve had one pineapple, one banana.’ But he give ’em to our foundation.”
It took awhile, but money started coming in, as well, according to Karen Kalani, OSMD Hawaii’s treasurer, who said that as of Saturday, Sampaga had raised “about $8,000.” She added that Sampaga “was amazed by the support he got from the entire island.”
Sampaga’s wife, Georgie, daughters Kiara, Kiani and Keahi, and son, Daryl Jr., joined him onstage, as did Mayor Billy Kenoi, who said Sampaga had been his son’s football coach.
“I didn’t know he had MD and wasn’t well, because he was always the guy with the biggest smile,” Kenoi said. “He was the most encouraging, happy, positive coach, always with love and aloha.”
Kenoi, who walked with Sampaga through the three horseshoe gulches on the Hamakua Coast, told the crowd that Sampaga’s walk was “one of the most amazing acts I’ve seen in all my years living on this island and certainly six years as mayor.”
“I saw him go down on his knees in the horseshoes and we no would say nothin’,” Kenoi said. “He would just pull himself back up, and then just keep walking.”
Looking at Sampaga, Kenoi vowed: “Whatever you short, no worry, because we goin’ buy those wa‘as. And we’re goin’ finish the fundraising for you. … You got all the community behind you.”
To donate or for more information, visit osmdhawaii.com.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.