When he lost his wife to cancer four years ago, a part of Dorian Vassallo died too. But from somewhere within, he rekindled a spirit of adventure in her name, undertaking kayaking challenges to raise funds for the cause that robbed her from him.
In July, he plans to paddle 180 nautical miles for 62 hours from Tunisia to Malta in yet another Kayak For Cancer event that gets tougher as the years roll on.
The initiative aims to raise cancer awareness as well as collect funds for the Puttinu Cares Foundation for its London apartments, where cancer patients and their families reside when undergoing long months of treatment in the UK.
Mr Vassallo is all too familiar with the suffering endured in these situations and his wife's death also spurred him to try to help other families experiencing similar hardship.
Since 2008, Mr Vassallo has been upping his endurance test, and on July 17, weather permitting, he plans to kayak all the way from Mahdia in Tunisia to Għajn Tuffieħa via the Pelagic Islands off Lampedusa and Linosa.
"I organise these events with one of my best friends, Capt. Albert Gambina. He is also my paddling buddy, so the merit is not mine alone."
His first event was from Marsalforn to Pozzallo, and Mr Vassallo has never looked back. Last year, two teams circumnavigated the Maltese archipelago - another first in the local kayak scene. They then paddled 52 nautical miles from Pozzallo to the Valletta Waterfront by night in just under 16 hours and achieved another first when they crossed from Malta to Sicily unassisted.
This latest mission has been in the pipeline for a while: "We had just arrived in Pozzallo after our first channel crossing, and while we were enjoying a meal, someone suggested we paddle from Tunisia to Malta.
"At first we just laughed it off but as we continued to discuss it we realised that by breaking up the distance, it was manageable."
Mr Vassallo maintains the logistics are quite complicated, particularly because they would be travelling through three countries. Accompanied by escort vessels, the plan is to paddle the first 75 nautical miles in about 24 hours to Lampedusa, leaving for Linosa after a good night's rest. The next 12-hour leg, 25 nautical miles, should be followed by another rest, and the final stretch of sea - another 75 nautical miles - to Malta should take another 24 hours of paddling.
Mr Vassallo has been training for two years for this. Every Sunday, the mates meet at 5.30 a.m. to paddle for about 35 kilometres.
"You cannot do these activities if you are afraid," he says, adding that he and his paddling partner have "great respect for the sea. We know the dangers and the risks and take every necessary precaution, carrying the safety equipment needed".
The Tunisia crossing is being held under the patronage of President George Abela. Mr Vassallo will be accompanied by his inseparable friend and two other teams from Italy and Tunisia.
Any donations can be sent to Puttinu Cares Foundation at Wonderland ward in Mater Dei Hospital, while more information is accessible on the Kayak for Cancer Malta's Facebook page and www.puttinucares.org
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us