OSCAR CHALUPSKY BACK ON THE WATER FOR MILLER’S RUN
It had been 318 days since Oscar Chalupsky launched his surfski into the ocean.
And after a lifetime spent paddling all around the world, as well as a COVID-19 house lockdown where he stared into the South African ocean every single day, it felt like even longer.
So, when he finally had both the strength and opportunity to get back to doing what he loves, there was one feeling that hit him harder than any other.
“It was nice and cold wetting the block and tackle… you felt alive when that water first hit you in the seat!” He laughs.
Yes, while his paddling fitness may have waned since he began fighting bone marrow cancer, The Big O’s sense of humour certainly has not.
And neither has downwind ability.
“I haven’t lost my skills for catching runs, I just don’t have the power or fitness,” Chalupsky says.
“When I’ve been paddling in the flatwater, I get tired and I stop – and then the boat stops.
“Now, I can stop and rest on a run and keep surfing along.”
That first session back in the ocean came a week ago, but this past weekend delivered the main event.
11 kilometres of pure downwind on the iconic Miller’s Run.
“It was so much fun,” Chalupsky says.
“It was very interesting catching runs with absolutely no power at all, just trying to rest as much as possible to keep my heart rate in check.
“I paddled very slowly to keep it down below 135.
“If I paddled that same pace and effort before my problems started, I’m sure my heart rate would’ve been 60 to 70.
“When you’re going that slow, you’re really looking for small little runs, anything to help you go faster with no effort.
“It was just great to be back on the water catching runs in my Nelo 520… I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait to do another one.”
Some things don’t change – his pure enjoyment in being out on the water…
And perhaps too his competitive drive, which, as he chuckles, reappeared in his first paddle back in the surf.
“I said I was going to go for six kilometres and paddled nice and slowly, then I saw a guy coming the other way, his name is Jacques, and I said, ‘hey, come with me!’
“He turned around and took a photo and I said, “Alright, I’ll teach you a bit of downwind paddling.
“He was so happy, and I was so happy that I could still paddle away from him!”
It’s coming up on one year since Chalupsky was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Chemotherapy was tough, and so was his lockdown experience – COVID-19 struck at a time when his immune system was at its weakest.
But now, he’s feeling some relief.
His doctor has given him clearance to exercise more frequently, so Oscar is trying to do two sessions each and every day.
His next cancer check is in mid-November.
“You can’t cure it, but we’re just trying to manage the cancer cells in my blood,” he says.
“At this stage, I’m on no medication which is fun.
“I’m planning to go back to Porto to my house at the end of October and spend three or four weeks there, then come back for my tests here” he says.
“My next step is to see what maintenance drug I have to go on.”
“I don’t feel that good because my heart still goes too high – much higher than before.
“So what I’ve done is just accept that and work around it.
He’s also been harnessing another powerful tool to aid in his fight – the unrelenting support of the surfski community.
Something that hit home as he took those first few strokes back.
“When I arrived everyone said, ‘Howzit Oscar, what’s happening!’ So it was nice.”
“Everyone recognises me even though I don’t know everyone, but they’re all so encouraging which really helps in your fight.
Well, maybe not everyone is ecstatic.
Wife Claire is back on downwind driving duties.
“She doesn’t like driving me for Miller’s Runs so she probably thinks it was a nice situation where she had her man to herself,” he jokes.
“I think she liked having me at home taking her to all of these nice places, wine farms and dinners and things like that!”