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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 6, 2006

'Go for it,' no matter what

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

JOSEPH BROC

Age: 17

School: Kahuku Intermediate and High School

Grade: 2006 graduate

Who helped you? "My parents, my mom and my dad. They've been very supportive. My mom is a teacher, so she kind of got me on the education part, and my dad was very supportive with me, too."

What advice would you give to other kids who would like to follow your example? "Just be active and don't feel sorry for themselves. I just wanted to turn my life around by doing something I enjoy. I'd tell them just because you're disabled it doesn't mean you're" unable to be active.

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Joseph Broc

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Joseph Broc, a recent graduate of Kahuku High School, won't let anything stand in his way, even his limited mobility caused by spina bifida.

For the past six years Broc has paddled for Manu O Ke Kai Canoe Club, spent hours as a community volunteer, and sung with the Kahuku High School Choir all while maintaining a 3.7 grade-point average and earning more than $21,000 in scholarship money.

"Through all these things I showed people that even with this disability, I can still be active and be involved," Broc said.

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that occurs in the first month of pregnancy when the spinal column doesn't close completely, according to the Spina Bifida Association's Web Site. The condition can cause varying degrees of paralysis.

Broc said he never allowed his disability to get in the way of doing the things he wanted to do. As a young child his mother would take him on frequent visits to the beach. Those trips made him fall in love with the ocean, he said.

While in intermediate school, Broc was approached by a family friend who encouraged him to join Manu O Ke Kai Canoe Club.

"They asked if I would be interested in paddling because I use my upper body most of the time and in paddling, you do the same thing," Broc said. "I was kind of hesitant. But another part of me was like, 'Just go for it. If it doesn't work out, just do something else.' "

The day he showed up for his first paddling practice, he remembers being afraid.

"I kept wondering what would happen if I flipped out and how they would get the canoe back up," he said.

Randy Sanborn, president and coach of Manu O Ke Kai Canoe Club, said he remembers when the canoe did flip.

"Joseph was the first one to get back in," he said.

He called Broc "an unreal guy."

"I wish some of the other boys who don't have a disability would take his example. He doesn't let his disability stand in his way," Sanborn said, noting that he was impressed that Broc wanted to paddle given his disadvantage to some others paddlers.

"With his condition he couldn't play any other sport. He found out that canoe paddling, he could do it. He's just a determined individual," Sanborn said.

Broc's determination in overcoming obstacles earned him the 2006 Horatio Alger National Finalist Scholarship. The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans provides scholarships to high school seniors facing adversity, including poverty, foster care, parental substance abuse, physical abuse or other obstacles. The association also provides mentoring to help students accomplish their goals.

More than 20,000 high school seniors applied for this year's round of scholarships, which are based on autobiographical essays about overcoming adversity. About 100 students were chosen to receive the financial aid award.

Broc plans to attend Hawai'i Pacific University in the fall to study marine biology.

In addition to pursuing academics and athletics, Broc has taken time to give back to the community.

In the seventh grade, Broc was introduced to Hawaii Fido Service Dog, an organization that provides trained canines to people with disabilities. He was asked to help train dogs to become the personal canine assistants to people in wheelchairs or with other impairments.

"It helped me understand that these dogs go to people like me and help them live productive lives," he said.

Broc has put three dogs through the training, but his first dog is the one he will always cherish.

"I started that when I was in seventh grade. So for my 13th birthday, one of the dogs that I was training became my dog," he said.

Broc says if there is any one lesson to learn from his example, it would be that "people can live a good life even though they have a disability."

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.