September 12, 2011

Little surfer girl

This weekend, I was a spectator at an amazing event. Matt and Holly will be writing all about it soon, but I thought I would offer my outsider experience.

Annabelle had her first surfing lesson! For those of you who don't know Annabelle, she is the three year old little miracle child I live with, the daughter of great friends. She she is the niece to my 'Unca Day'. She was born with Spina Bifida, and on land she zips along in a wheelchair with flashing wheels and a glow in the dark frame. She loves the water and with the help of a great organization, she got to take out a surfboard for the first time.

A group called Life Rolls On puts on these surfing events nine times a year, with three in California. They take people who are normally restricted to wheelchairs and take them out to tackle the surf. From their website:
Life Rolls On, a subsidiary of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injury and utilizes action sports as a platform to inspire infinite possibilities despite paralysis.
Life Rolls On was founded by Jesse Billauer. Also from their website:
On March 25, 1996, Jesse Billauer was surfing at his local break at Zuma Beach in California as he was pushed headfirst into the shallow sandbar, fracturing his neck and severing his spinal cord, leaving him a quadriplegic. Jesse left the hospital, and immediately knew two things: he had to surf again and he had to help others be inspired to follow their passions. 
After my morning run, I scooted up to La Jolla to see Annabelle surf. I was running a little late, and arrived on the beach at her 11:30 scheduled start time. Annie was enjoying a nap at that point, so they bumped her to 1:30. It allowed me a couple of hours to learn more about Life Rolls On and see them in action.

There were four teams of volunteers taking out surfers for a half hour of fun. I first watched from a distance, the ocean filled with color-coded teams watching and supporting their surfer. Then I watched one team and one individual. This lady right here.

The volunteers wheeled her out into the surf, lifted her on the surfboard, and ferried her out into the breakers. Her team spread into a rough chute between the surf and the shore, while one volunteer lay behind her on the board. They would bob along until they saw a good wave coming, and then they would push and kick the board forward and ride it on in. The team ran and swam alongside, ready to catch her if she fell. There were laughs, smiles and cheers, but every volunteer was on task and ready to jump in.

I can't begin to imagine what it was like for her surfing that day. I can only attempt to equate it to what I know from my own life. Standing knee deep in the surf, watching all these amazing athletes, it felt like I was standing at the finish line of a marathon.

Just like at every start line, there are amazing individual stories to tell. What people have struggled through just to get there. Lives, deaths, sicknesses, sacrifices and everyday speed bumps. As special as it is to look in everyone's eyes as they contemplate what is ahead, and what they put behind, it only informs the triumph you see at the finish line. It is palpable.

And the surfer's course was lined with volunteers just like a race course. These special people dancing in the waves were even more powerful, not only providing mental energy and encouragement, but literal life support. I got choked up watching this woman conquer the waves and everything else, just like I do at the finish lines of marathons. And I can't describe it much better than my favorite race course sign - "I am totally proud of you, random stranger!"

And then I saw Annabelle take her turn. She is probably still a little young to understand all that was going on, but her parents are not. Matt took the rudder of the surfboard for her last run into the beach and Holly captured some great photos. They saw old friends and met new amazing people. People who understand.

I will let them describe what it was like for Annie on her first day of surfing, but as an 'Unca' standing on the beach, it was pretty incredible watching the three of them break through another barrier.

Matt's post is now up, with lots of great photos.

1 comment:

Holly Linden said...

Oh Unca! You've got me all weepy. Thank you so much for all your love and support! Seeing you there sporting your "Go Annabelle!" t-shirt meant SO MUCH. You are so dear. Love you Buddy!