Today over 200 paddlers will take to the water in memory of former Nine journalist, Charles Stewart, for the fourth running of The Chucky Charles Stewart Memorial Cup.
Known as Chucky to the Sydney paddling community, Stewart was instrumental in the promotion and broadcast of major world paddling events. He suddenly passed after suffering a heart attack following a paddling session in January 2016.
“Chucky worked for Wide World of Sports back in the ’80s and ’90s and he was the first one to cover the big ocean paddling race, the Molokai crossing, when it first came to pass in Hawaii,” Ironman legend and close friend of Steward, Guy Leech, told WWOS.
“He flew over there with his camera and a couple of people and he filmed the race and that was the first that we all saw of the event back here in Australia.
“So when I was doing Ironman competitions, I saw it on the broadcast and I sort of bookmarked it to want to go and do that race someday.”
An avid paddler himself, Stewart started training with paddling groups Leech was taking and as both a competitor and reporter, became an irreplaceable voice for the sport.
On the day of Stewart’s heart attack, Leech attempted to resuscitate the youthful 65-year-old before paramedics arrived 10 minutes later. He was rushed to hospital but after four days, Stewart passed away.
“Chucky suffered a sudden cardiac arrest which is an electrical issue of the heart, at the end of one of my fitness sessions that he was in,” the two-time Coolangatta Gold winner said.
“I ended up trying to resuscitate him until the ambulance turned up but Chucky didn’t make it.
“I found out afterwards that things like having a defibrillator close by would have given Chucky a much greater chance of survival.”
Choosing to turn his mates’ passing into something positive, Leech launched a heart health mission, investigating heart incidents and the role access to defibrillators plays in the process of survival.
“It was that day with Chucky that tipped me off to do what I’ve been doing the last six years,” he said.
This saw Leech start his own company – Heart180 – which distributes defibrillators within communities and educates people on how to use the device confidently in the case of a sudden cardiac arrest.
The Chucky paddling race now serves as a yearly reminder to the paddling fraternity to engage in healthy heart habits such as eating well and visiting your doctor for a checkup. As well as drawing attention to the importance of having access to defibrillators in prominent places.
“The stats are that if someone has a sudden cardiac arrest – and there will be about 120-130 people today that will have one in Australia – and there’s a defib nearby, you’ll have about a 70 per cent chance of your heart restarting and surviving,” Leech said.
“Without a defib being close by, you have 180 seconds, then every minute after that initial 180 seconds of not getting a defib on someone for an electrical issue, they’ve got a 10 per cent less chance of surviving.
“So by the time you go and ring the ambulance and they turn up 12 minutes later or thereabouts, the survival rate is about six per cent in Australia.
“The message is for the sake of a couple of thousand dollars for a device that talks you through everything you need to do and makes it really easy to use, then it’s something we all should consider having.”
Leech believes that whilst Stewart could not be saved, his legacy lives on with all the people Heart180 can help.
What to do if confronted with a heart incident
What to do if confront with a heart incident
After Stewart’s passing, Leech asked the 100 paddlers in his training group to see a cardiologist within 12 weeks.
“These are people that are super fit, healthy, look after themselves, aged between 39 and 72, pronominally men – and they all went and got checked out,” he said.
“Of the 100, five had to have stents put in straight away – the youngest in the group, the 39-year-old who was the fittest out of all of us had to have two stents put in – and 15 had to go on medication for their heart.”
As it was found, 20 per cent of the seemingly healthy group were suffering from some form of undetected cardiovascular disease.
The second round of the Shaw and Partners Australian Ocean Racing Series – The Chucky, paddling for heart health – gets underway at 10am AEDT on Saturday 19 March, off the shores of Collaroy.