When a young sportsman is diagnosed with what can initially be seen as an end to his or her career, it can often seem like their world is over. However, the strong-minded often find a route through the painful period, and live to ride another day.
Hailing from the U.S. Virgin Island of St John, the extremely sporty, and very talented windsurfer, Mike Porter (JP, NeilPryde) has done exactly that. We caught up with Mike at the Catalunya World Cup, where he was overjoyed just to see his name in print on the score sheet once again.
PWA: When did you start competing on the tour?
MP: “My first professional event with the PWA was in 2003, but I competed in the Margarita Wild Winds, and the Aruba High Winds a couple of years before that. So I was actually a relatively late starter in windsurfing terms. I didn’t actually begin professional competition until I was about 30 years old. Unfortunately I suffered from a substance abuse problem in my younger years, but I got cleaned up in 1989, and windsurfing was the vehicle that helped me overcome all of that. It literally saved my life, and became my new addiction.”
PWA: Which disciplines do you take part in today?
MP: “I’m basically a racer. I started with Formula and did some slalom in the late nineties, but when Formula took off, I went with that. And, in 2005 I was ranked 35th in the world. Then when slalom returned to the PWA, I started getting into that again. So I’m basically a converted course racer.”
PWA: When did you get diagnosed with cancer?
MP: “Let me see, I recall in Sylt 2007 I started feeling unwell. My energy levels were down and I started sweating a lot at night. During that competition I just didn’t feel right, I felt off balance, and had flu type symptoms. And these progressively got worse. I went to see a doctor and they didn’t know what was wrong with me. I finally had an MRI scan and they found a lesion on my 12th vertebrae. And, after that I got diagnosed with lung cancer in march of 2008.”
PWA: How did you feel about the diagnosis at the time?
MP: “I was shocked and stunned, in that order. Shortly after that I went into a bit of a dream state whilst I had chemotherapy. Then I went into surgery towards the end of 2008 and they removed the upper part of my left lung. My greatest fear throughout the entire time was that I’d never be able to windsurf again - it became my constant point of conversation with my doctors. And, funnily enough, I went into a state of denial, and towards the end of 2008, I even tried to enter the competition in Turkey! They basically had to hold me down and told me I couldn’t go. So I felt quite angry at that time too. But, I received emails of support from all over the world from the guys on the tour. There were freestylers, racers, and wave sailors, friends that I never even knew I had, supporting me, and that helped me get through a lot of it. I have all of them to thank, as well as you guys at the PWA.”
PWA: So was windsurfing the key to your recovery then?
MP: “I think the desire to be back on the water really helped me think positively throughout the whole ordeal. And, I felt that I hadn’t finished my racing yet, and really didn’t want the cancer to be the determining factor of when I stop. I felt that if my career was going to end, I wanted it to be on my terms.”
PWA: What other significant factors helped you through that period in your life?
MP: “I had some of the best doctors in the world in Boston, who I really have to credit.”
PWA: Are you fully recovered now that you’re back on tour again?
MP: “The cancer has gone, and I’m in remission. But, in 2009 I had a metastasis in my cerebellum which was causing pressure on my brain, and I wasn’t sure what was going on so I went for another MRI and they found two more lesions. I had surgery to remove those, and they weren’t very well formed so caught them at the right time. I’m in as close to remission as you can call it.”
PWA: What advice do you have for anyone else going through a similar situation?
MP: “My first bit of advice is never give up. If you keep a dream in front of you in your head, it can become reality. The event in Costa Brava was my first attempt at getting back out in professional competition and living my dream. You’ve got to believe in your doctors, eat well, and try to live your normal life, rather than seeing yourself as a cancer patient.”
PWA: Will we see you at a few more slalom events throughout the year?
MP: “We’ll see. I have to build up my red blood cells, so that my body can carry more oxygen to compensate for the missing lung tissue. I don’t think I’ll be ready for the Canaries, but I’m hoping to be able to compete in Turkey. After that, we’ll see how it goes. Basically, I’m going to try to stay free and ride the wind forever.”