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JBLM Airman finds a family in Federal Way canoeing club

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FEDERAL WAY - When Tech. Sgt. Guy Dashnea stumbled upon outrigger canoeing for the first time in 2006 while stationed in Hawaii, he was merely searching for a new way to be active.

He said years of intense weight lifting, running, soccer and football - and a 14-year career as a security forces Airman - had begun to take their toll on the 34-year-old's body. Canoeing offered a high-intensity, low-impact way to stay fit.

But the sport gave him a family as well.

"We have poker tournaments, we have potluck parties, we have Christmas parties," Dashnea, now a devoted member of the Kikaha O Ke Kai Outrigger Canoe Club, said. "This is a yearlong family."

The group based in Federal Way dedicates itself to the Hawaiian paddling sport.

Dashnea, now 40 and the fitness outreach program manager for the Health and Wellness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, joined the club a year ago and represents it today as one of its top six paddlers.

His teammates come from all over. They come as retirees and veterans from the Army and Air Force, from auto shops and home businesses, from the islands of Hawaii - one is a retired two-star general. Some are Hawaiian, and some just love the culture.

Some of the group's paddlers want to win, and some just want something to do.

"If you're not in shape, it's okay," Dashnea said. "As long as your tushie can fit in the boat, you're going to be okay. Either way, they're not going to judge you."

Whatever the motivation, Dashnea said everyone instantly becomes part of the family. The paddlers share tents when at races across the Pacific Northwest, they share food, and they share heaters when it's cold.

"You just feel like you're part of something," Nancy Puglisi, Dashnea's wife, who is also a club member, said. "And they're so supportive, and they're always checking up on you and making sure you're OK."

"Our club is pretty family oriented," the club's head coach, Gordon Martinez, said. "I think that's the best part of our club."

The group is one of more than 15 that make up the Pacific Northwest Outrigger Racing Canoe Association, which encompasses teams from Washington, Oregon and Montana.

With about 40 adult paddlers and a team of children who compete as well, the team boasts one of the largest groups in the association.

The group competes in races across Washington, Oregon and Canada each year.

On the cool waters of Steel Lake in Federal Way, where the group practices every Tuesday and Thursday evening for nearly two hours and on most weekends, Dashnea and the rest of the team get deep in focus.

Dashnea serves as one of two "strong paddlers" in his canoe, who sit in the middle of the six-man boat and can offer the most powerful strokes.

He forgets about everything - about stress, about work. His paddling is all that matters here.

Every paddler stroking at the exact same time is key to the smooth movement, he says.

"We've got to pull together as one to make the boat run smoothly; it's the same principle as how to run the club smoothly," he said. "We have a good bunch of guys, and they work well together."

Dashnea likens the team cohesion to a family dynamic.

"When we're paddling together we're like part of a family," he said. "We don't want to let the family down. We're all helping gather the boats; we're helping to bring each other in."

"It just makes the overall experience fun for the families," Martinez said. "That's what they look for when they join - they want to experience something new and exciting and a welcoming to the sport."

It's a sport Dashnea is hoping more service members will pursue.

"They can outrigger canoe with not a lot of impact on their bodies," he said. "You're not worried about getting hurt out there."

And in the case of this team, there are no strict expectations - no high demands.

"Just bring a towel and your attitude," Dashnea said.

Photo by

Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord

Tech. Sgt. Guy Dashnea (center), fitness outreach program manager for the Health and Wellness Center at JBLM, and the rest of his teammates take a break during a practice for his outrigger canoeing club, Kikaha O Ke Kai, April 10 at Steel Lake in Federal Way.

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