This past weekend was probably one of the most memorable of my life. I had the opportunity to volunteer at Life Rolls On’s flagship program, They Will Surf Again (TWSA). TWSA is a no-cost program that allows those living with SCI to push the boundary of possibility through surfing. Everyone gathers for a day of surfing, inspiration, and camaraderie.
Read more about They Will Surf Again!
To be honest, I would have never heard about this program if I wasn’t an editorial intern at the Reeve Foundation. I’ve never been around anyone in a wheelchair, so I thought volunteering for this event would be an experience. I brought my mom along for the weekend and headed down to the beach at Wildwood Crest, NJ.
The morning started off at the wee hour of 8 a.m. (I’m not a morning person so this was an event within itself) with weather that didn’t look so promising. I walked up to the volunteer table with nerves running through me. I didn’t know what to expect, because until I started at the Foundation, I had zero knowledge about paralysis and the true impact it has on someone.
When 9 a.m. rolled around, the event was in full motion. I have to say the first eye-opener for me was watching the volunteers roll the surfers in beach wheelchairs, which have oversized wheels making it easier to travel through the sand, down to the surfers’ area. I love everything about the beach, but I never really thought about how hard it would be for someone in a wheelchair to travel through the thick sand.
It was touching to see how many people came out to volunteer their time. With over 165 volunteers and 28 surfers, the beach was packed (and the sun was finally out!) I was a hospitality volunteer so I spent a portion of the morning making sure everyone had breakfast and fed the crowd when lunch came around.
The first round of surfers was up to have their 30 minutes in the water. The water was still a bit cold, but that didn’t stop them. I listened as the volunteers took the time out to ask each surfer how they wanted to be transferred from the chair to the surf board. It was mind-blowing to see the volunteers really take the time to listen to each surfer and make sure they felt 100% comfortable (pictured at left).
I expected the surfers to be screaming with excitement (pictured at right) as they rode into shore on a wave. But instead the volunteers in the water were the ones who were the loudest of all. At one point, I looked out to see all the volunteers jumping up and down with their hands in the air as one surfer rode a wave into shore. The feeling I got from watching the surfers glide into shore on the boards is unforgettable.
Watching the surfers take their turns in the water was truly incredible. I’ve never been surfing before and to be honest, I don’t think I would have the skill to surf. I saw each participant, varying from age 9 to their 40’s, not only conquer the waves, but conquer them without complete control of their bodies. I was aware of the limitations a wheelchair has, but I never saw them first hand, so seeing each and every one of the surfers take the limitations and throw them away was the best thing I’ve ever witnessed.
I met a little girl, Bridget, who is 9-years-old and told me this was her third TWSA event. I couldn’t control my laughter when she told me that she was beating all the other surfers. She said her favorite part was the waves splashing in her face.
While Bridget (pictured at left) couldn’t get enough, Angela, who never surfed before, said she hoped surfing would give her the feeling of “freedom.”
If you asked me a month ago about paralysis, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much other than you would need a wheelchair to get around. A week ago I would be able to tell you that it impacts over five and a half million people. But today I can tell you paralysis is much bigger than a wheelchair or statistic. I’ve learned that even though someone is paralyzed and in a wheelchair, limitations and boundaries may be set, but the possibility to break free from those is greater than paralysis could ever be.
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