My First Time Back in the Ocean

By GG deFiebre

I have always loved the water. When I was a kid I used to visit my grandparents who lived in Clearwater, Florida, right next to the Gulf of Mexico. I used to spend countless hours swimming, snorkeling, and sailing in the Gulf. After being diagnosed with transverse myelitis and becoming a quadriplegic, the water suddenly seemed unreachable. Soon after I left the hospital where I had been for over two months, I was able to go in the therapy pool at my outpatient therapy clinic. I quickly learned that my body sank in water (apparently some people sink and some people float). Swimming and floating would no longer be as effortless as they once were. Since my diagnosis in December 2009, I had gone swimming a few times in pools, but had not ventured into the ocean or even visited the beach. It seemed impossible.

Then I found out about an organization called Life Rolls On. It was started by a surfer who sustained a spinal cord injury while surfing and as a result became a quadriplegic. He figured out a way to go surfing after his injury and then started the organization to expose others to the joy of adaptive surfing. I marked my calendar for the day and made sure I registered in time. On the day of the event, I arrived at Rockaway Beach, Queens early, at around 7:30 am. The beach was set up with several flags for each team, and volunteers had put down mats over the sand so that it was easier for wheelchairs to get to the water. Each team consisted of several water volunteers and surfers. While waiting for the surfing to begin, I ran into my high school chorus teacher! I hadn’t seen him since I graduated high school in 2006. I learned that he helps set up the event every year!

I then waited for my turn to surf. I was given a life vest and transferred into a beach wheelchair. The volunteers then transferred me onto the surfboard and they propped my upper body up with a noodle. A handful of volunteers picked me up on the surfboard and carried me into the water. Then the deep-water volunteers took over and brought me further out into the water. The water was cold but refreshing, and it brought back many memories of swimming in the ocean. I was hit with small waves of salt water, and it felt so peaceful sitting out there on the surfboard. The surfers then recognized a wave we could ride, and started paddling behind me. Once we caught the wave it felt like we were flying. I had never gone surfing before, but I didn’t realize how quickly you move and how effortless it feels. That was until I suddenly found myself underwater. The board had flipped forward, knocking me into the water. Thankfully the volunteers picked me up out of the water right away and I got to go surfing several more times. It was exhilarating!

Life Rolls On takes people with disabilities surfing all throughout the country, so I encourage you to check out their website to find an event near you!

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  • Rich Kolasa

    Thanks for sharing GG. What’s most inspiring for me is how you find that drive and motivation to get out there and do these things- that’s not always easy!