I’m a paralyzed surfer. I wasn’t always paralyzed. The funny thing is, when I got paralyzed they told me I would never surf again – along with a huge list of other things that I would never do. In 2007, I went into the hospital for a simple Microlumbar Discectomy. During the surgery there were complications and the surgeon partially cut my spinal cord and tethered the cord. Long story short, I am paralyzed from the waist down. I suffer from Arachnodidise, Distonia, RSD, and have had a constant headache that will never go away.
I spent over two-and-a-half years in the hospital with numerous surgeries that lasted over 24 hours, and died on them numerous times. When it was all said and done, there was a point when I wanted to be dead. I was listening to everything the doctors were telling me, (you will never do this, you cannot do that). I got to a point where I had no more energy. I was just done with it all. I had previously served in the military, and made it through a lot that really should have killed me. Eleven years prior to my surgery, I made a decision in my life to get back to my moral courage and beliefs. I had come out of the military confused and angry, but it was getting me nowhere. After I reached a certain point, I had to take a moral inventory and come to terms with a few things. The conclusion that I came to was that what happens to you does not have to define you.
So I set out on a journey of finding myself and applying myself to being of service to others. That’s why I joined the United States Marine Corps: to be of service.
You see, I believe that being of service is the rent I pay for living on and enjoying this great earth. I also believe that the way I treat people today is a direct reflection on how I will feel about myself tomorrow. Fast forward to November, 2007, when I went in for a simple surgery and my life was turned upside down. Two-and-a-half years in the hospital, more surgeries than you really want to know, being put into a drug induced coma for months on end just to keep me alive – all because someone made a mistake. I found myself alone at night and talking to whoever is in charge, and telling them this is not what I had worked for. If this was going to be my life for the future, I wanted nothing to do with it. I had plans and dreams, and being in a wheelchair was not part of them.
I heard a voice in my head. “If you want to throw in the towel, I understand. It’s OK,” it said. “I understand that you think your life is over and nothing good can come out of it. But before you throw it away, think about something. At this moment, you are drowning in fear and uncertainty. If you get back to living in the moment, have faith, and stop looking at everything as being problems without answers, you are going to have a great life.”
After I lay in bed for hours, thinking about that voice in my head and what it said, I decided to get back to living in the moment and thinking of others. But to do this, I needed to get over the anger and resentment I had toward the doctor that made the mistake on the operating table.
I started working on this, eventually informing my doctors that I was in charge of my medical care, not them. I reminded them that they practice medicine and what they had been telling me about what I could or couldn’t do was based on past statistics. I told them that I had always defied the odds, and that they should help me try to do what I believed I could do or get out of my way. I started going to P.T. six days a week and working with people who believed in believing.
In August of 2012, a friend of mine reached out to someone. Nicholas Borreli is a Social Worker who helps disabled veterans surf. Although he had never worked with someone paralyzed at the T-11, since I had been surfing for my whole life and we were both former Marines, he agreed to getting me back in the water. That August, I caught a couple of small waves and cried like a child.
I was hooked again. I started thinking about a special wheelchair that could get me to the water by myself and changes to the rocker on my surfboard. Oh man, I was hooked. I got a hold of a company that could make me a special wheelchair and the person that used to shape my surfboards and got the ball rolling. Today, after doctors told me that I would never surf again, I surf three to four times a week. I have a bucket list of places that I want to surf paralyzed. I have been back to Lowers and Churches and Table Tops and Warm Waters. I’ve been back to the Cardiff river mouth. I’ve surfed all over Oceanside and Huntington. I had a special wheelchair made so I can get back in the skate parks… you should see the look on people’s faces when I drop in. It’s great.
One day, I measured what my eye-level was in a wheelchair. It was 42 inches. I started thinking about how many people that were in my situation and seeing the world from my level. Were they surrounded by people telling them what they could not do? So I started a non-profit. A person’s ability to enjoy life should not be hindered by their disability or the lack of accessibility to the world. Don’t tell us what we cannot do, help us do what we want to do. The name of the non-profit is The View From 42. We do a couple of things, including training rescue dogs to be service dogs for our veterans with disabilities, helping people live beyond their disabilities (sharing the stoke) and helping people to look at people with disabilities as a person with a disability instead of a disabled person. It makes a big difference.
The ocean’s energy heals the soul. It has healed mine, I know that. When I’m out there surfing, I can catch a wave and forget that I’m paralyzed. I mean really surfing: getting barreled, hitting the lip, I can still do that. Life is great. I just wanted to share the stoke with all of you.