Mike Kuharik, a 58-year-old stand-up paddleboard racer, gets inspiration from seeing his son’s courage and dedication.
Jason Kuharik, 21, has recovered amazingly well through hard work and therapy from a serious head injury he suffered two years ago, and he’s inspired by his dad’s impressive paddleboarding.
Mike Kuharik, a Smithville resident, has won two straight races of the SUP AC Race Series in the intracoastal waters of Atlantic City against talented and mostly younger competition. Kuharik was the overall winner of the second race of the five-race series June 28 in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 20 seconds. He bettered that last Sunday with an overall win in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 25 seconds.
“It (the inspiration) kind of goes back and forth,” Mike Kuharik said. “We raced together four or five years ago, and then came the injury (in July 2018). He had a fall and hit his head at a friend’s house. He couldn’t move or speak at first and was in ICU for 36 days. During his rehab we were working toward getting him back on his feet, and I started paddling again to help him in his recovery. We’re hoping he can get back racing.”
Jason Kuharik, a Cedar Creek High School graduate, was a computer science major at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington at the time of the injury. He had always been a surfer, and Mike’s paddling gives Jason even more motivation to get back in the water. Jason can now paddle on his knees.
“It’s been a heck of a journey,” Mike Kuharik said. “He did six or seven months of rehab at the Bacharach (Institute for Rehabilitation) in Galloway. He would go into the pool three days a week. They coined him ‘the Unstoppable.’ He made a lot of progress. The biggest thing is he’s really positive, patient and diligent. He’s a great motivator to me.”
Jason went from a wheelchair to a walker, and now doesn’t need that. His speech is perfect.
Jason won two SUP AC Race Series races while in high school and gives his father racing and training advice.
“I’m really proud of my dad. It’s the fastest he’s ever raced,” Jason said. “It’s amazing what he has done, beating people who are half his age. My advice to him is to paddle at least every other day and do cross-training.”
Mike, a casual paddleboarder for about five years, was surprised by his first SUP AC Race Series victory.
“I was not in the first race of the Series (on May 30), but I told my son that I’d do the best I could do (in the June race),” he said. “I took off and ended up winning. I got into a mode of paddling. I was thinking of his rehab and that energized me.”
Kuharik’s second victory was against a stronger field.
“I got into my game and got to the lead,” he said. “I paddled to the end and didn’t look back. It was a good race.”
Kuharik is currently the points leader for the elite men’s SUP AC Race Series championship with 2,000 points. Tom Forkin, the event director, said that each race winner gets 1,000 points, the runner-up gets 850 and third place receives 700. The last two races are Aug. 29 and Sept. 26.
“Mike’s been on fire, and he’s had a lot of competition,” said Forkin, 57. “He’s a hometown guy with a great family. They’re surfers and windsurfers, a real waterman’s family. Mike and I have known each other since high school. His son’s injury motivated Mike to start training again. Jason is quite a kid. After a head injury he’s walking again, and I expect to see him back on a paddleboard by next year.”
Mike Kuharik is a 1979 Atlantic City High School graduate. He’s a union carpenter with Local 255, and works in the facilities department at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. He and wife Patti, an ACHS graduate, also have a daughter, Hannah, 25.
Mike is also a windsurfing teacher, and that’s part of his training, along with pushups, pullups and indoor biking. He gives the advice that everything in the water “keeps us fit,” and that a body in motion will feel better.