Paddleboarder with disabilities crosses Lake Michigan, rewards himself with deep dish pizza

Mike Shoreman arrived at North Avenue Beach on Wednesday as part of a quest to paddle across all five Great Lakes to raise money for mental health programs. Willis Tower served as his a beacon.

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Paddleboarder Mike Shoreman approaches North Avenue Beach.

Mike Shoreman approaches North Avenue Beach on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Paddleboarding in the dark of night doesn’t become less scary the more you do it.

Mike Shoreman can attest.

Shoreman, 39, is crossing all five Great Lakes to raise money for mental health awareness.

He just crossed Lake Michigan off the list.

Shoreman left New Buffalo, Michigan, on Tuesday morning and spent 27 hours on the water, covering 46 miles, before arriving at North Avenue Beach on Wednesday morning.

The city’s skyline and tallest buildings served as his beacon.

Protein shakes and a squirt of grape Kool-Aid every 30 minutes fueled him. And a support team in a nearby motorboat provided companionship.

Mike Shoreman waves as he approaches North Avenue Beach.

Mike Shoreman waves as he approaches North Avenue Beach.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A group of local stand-up paddleboard enthusiasts paddled out to meet Shoreman, cheer him on and guide him to shore. Officers in a Chicago Police Department Marine boat did the same.

He fell into the arms of his friend and support team member Liana Neumann. He then sat in the sand and removed the waterproof bags from his feet and peeled off his socks.

His plans for the rest of the day: “A shower and deep dish pizza.”

Mike Shoreman, on a blue-and-orange paddleboard, approaches North Avenue Beach accompanied by clients and instructors at Chicago SUP.

Mike Shoreman, on a blue-and-orange paddleboard (center), approaches North Avenue Beach accompanied by clients and instructors at Chicago SUP.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Four years ago, Shoreman was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a rare condition brought on by shingles that left him with facial paralysis, impaired balance, vision loss and taste, speech, mobility and hearing problems.

Shoreman, who is Canadian, had to relearn to walk and could no longer operate his paddleboard business in Toronto.

“I closed down. I wasn’t talking to anyone. People would text me and I just wouldn’t respond,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave my house. My face had collapsed. I had to move home with my parents to be looked after, and I’d go to the grocery store, walking with a cane, and hide my face because I didn’t want anyone to look at me.”

“My parents insisted that I go and stay at a mental health treatment facility, and that gave me the tools I needed and set me on a path to wellness, and I realized I don’t want kids to ever feel like I felt,” he said.

“Mental health is anxiety and stress. Everybody faces it. There’s still a stigma that prevents people from talking comfortably about it. People are embarrassed, and when you don’t talk about it, it becomes a bigger problem.”

Shoreman is working with Jack.org to raise money to put mental health programs in schools in Canada. He’s also an ambassador for several groups in the United States seeking to promote mental health.

Crossing the Great Lakes hasn’t been easy.

Shoreman, who works as an inspirational speaker, estimates his body has recovered 80% from the damage caused by Ramsay Hunt syndrome, but balance, vision and facial paralysis issues persist.

Paramedics hauled him off the waterfront after he crossed Lake Huron because severely pruned and cracked feet made walking too painful.

According to Shoreman’s research, he’s the only person with disabilities to attempt crossing all the Great Lakes.

To pass the time out in the open water, Shoreman chats and jokes constantly with his support crew.

One game they play: assign everyone a barnyard animal that seems fitting.

Shoreman was declared the goat, a play on the acronym “Greatest of All Time” and the bleating sound he tended to make when he disapproved of something — like the taste of grape Kool-Aid.

Shoreman, who did his first crossing in May, will embark on the last leg of his journey on Aug. 10 when he begins paddling across Lake Ontario.

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