Monday, August 13, 2012

Life Rolls On: Just Because You're Paralyzed Doesn't Mean You Can't Surf

Pardon me for the longest title ever.
But it's a true statement.
Just because you're paralyzed, doesn't mean you can't surf.

I can't help but smile when I look at these pictures of my husband.

Let's talk about this for a second.
There are LOTS of reasons I never would have imagined I'd see him surf.
1. He's a quadriplegic. He's paralyzed from the chest down, only has limited use of his arms, and can barely hold himself up on his tummy when he's on the land, let alone in waves that are crashing.
2. He's from Arkansas.
3. He's just not generally known for his coordination or any sort of sporting expertise.

So, when I heard about Life Rolls On's "They Will Surf Again" adventure in Virginia Beach, I signed him up, of course.

I figured, why not?
It's a great organization.
There are TONS of people, including experienced surfers who volunteer, so I knew he would be 100% safe the whole time.
AND it was an excuse to go back to my hometown, see my family, and spend a day on the REAL beach.
Where do I sign and fax the form, right?

Let's rewind to Friday.
We road tripped it from DC down to the 757.
We arrived at my favorite all-inclusive resort, also known as my sister's house.
Michael spent the afternoon working on designing a website.
Then we went out to dinner with some of my family, and had a great time.
I love my family SO much. They are so much fun. We stayed the night Friday night at my sister's mom's house (okay, so we have a crazy family tree, just go with it) and that was wonderful because there's only like two steps into her place, and she was sweet enough to give us her bed for the night, and so we slept ON A BED without paying for a hotel! Sweetness. Thank you Shannon!! And, Michael could get in the bathroom, it was so nice.

We won't talk about the 3:00am issue I had when I found out that Mitt Romney had chosen his running mate, and I had a crisis of conscience and may or may not have secretly wished, just for a minute, that the Life Rolls On event would be cancelled, and I could be in Norfolk for the Romney/Ryan event. You know how the story ends. I love my job, and I'm passionate about covering politics, but obviously I love my husband (and the ocean) more.
We got there early, because I was signed up to volunteer for the event. So, we got all registered, and we headed out to the beach. So awesome that Virginia Beach has an accessible part of the beach (it's up at Gromet Park at First Street, check it out!) so we just rolled out without anyone's help.
I was immediately transported back in time.
Oh my WORD, I love Virginia Beach, and I miss it so much!
As the morning went on, more adaptive surfers (there were 40+!) and volunteers showed up, and were getting everything ready.
Photo Credit: John Wright

I was on the blue team. Can you see me? 

My friend Courtney came by to meet Michael and hang out with us. Thanks for coming, Courtney!!
Everyone gathered for a group photo and a prayer, then it was time to surf!
Photo Credit: John Wright

I volunteered in the water helping several surfers on the blue team. Michael was on the orange team. So, he chilled on the shore, visiting with some more friends who stopped by to say hi.
Thanks to Ian and Julie (nice to meet y'all!!) and Jake and Amanda for coming by!

Helping the surfers was really fun. I loved being in the water, and feeling the waves come and come and crash and crash. There is nothing like that rhythm, the sun and the salt water. It feels like home. It's beautiful and powerful and being in the ocean is truly a whole experience: physical, mental, spiritual. I loved it.  Helping the kid surfers was the most fun, because they were just smiling and screaming with joy!! I loved it.  I met some other volunteers who had driven in from as far away as Richmond and Chapel Hill to help. Great people!
We met so many people. It was SO much fun.  During our break for lunch, we walked over to the inlet, and saw my brother from a distance. He was working. His JOB is on a boat, taking parasailers out.
This is obviously A LONG WAY from where he was last summer, in Afghanistan. I am so happy to see him shirtless on the back of a boat, with a bunch of red facial hair. I love him and I'm so proud of him, and just relieved that he is not, as my sister put it, "half way around the world, in hell" anymore.

Michael's time to surf wasn't until later in the afternoon. So, after much anticipation, it was FINALLY his turn!!
Here he is with some of the volunteers on the orange team.  I can't say enough things about how much I love these people.  They kept my husband safe the whole time!!

I wanted to go out with them, so even though I was on the blue team, I swam out with them when Michael went out.  He made me promise to not try to control anything or talk, so I held up my end of the deal!

You guys.
Remember, Michael can't hold himself up!!
Harder than it looks.
Harder than we thought it would be.
PLUS, at the time he was going out, the waves were bigger than they had been all day (of course, it's Michael, haha! If there is an opportunity for anything to be more of a challenge, it will be - for him, bless his heart!)

After about 8 waves crashed over the team, one guy suggested they put a life jacket on Michael. To my mother-in-law, before you freak out: He was in a big strong guy's arms the ENTIRE time. One guy yelled, "the wife wants him to put a life jacket on." Oh no!!! I didn't want to get in trouble, so I made it clear that while I 100% supported the life jacket idea (I wondered why he didn't have one on to start with, but I was holding up my end of the deal by not being controlling and saying anything), I didn't say that.  Michael just laughed.  

They got the life jacket on him.
And then they got another one out there for him to prop his chest up on, so he wasn't drinking ocean water the entire time.  That was key!

It was hard to keep him on the board, because the waves were building and they just KEPT COMING, and washing him off.  

I may or may not have broken my end of the deal to not be involved that last time they were trying to get him further up on the board. Because, I know they were like four big strong men and all, but you've got to remember, I am more familiar with Michael's body than anyone, other than Michael himself. So, I just grabbed the back of his swim trunks and yanked him up on there real good. 

Then. He was set.
A good wave came, and the guys pushed him out in front of it, one guy was on the back of the board, holding Michael on, and they rode it in. ALL THE WAY IN.

I watched him from behind, and I kind of cried. Just a little.

I waited out in the ocean, because we were hoping to ride at least one wave in together. But, after that one wave, Michael was done. It was a lot of effort. Everyone on the shore was cheering. And will you just look at the faces of the volunteers on the orange team in the water, as Michael surfed in? This was truly a team effort, and they were certainly sharing in our joy.  I am so grateful for these people!

And see the guy in the back, in the hat?
He asked me if I wanted to catch a wave in.
Of course I did!
He said I deserved to surf, too.
So, they got the board back out to me.

And while no one was watching, I rode a wave in.
I haven't done that in almost 20 years!
I only made it to my knees, not my feet, but it was amazing!!

I think when I just stood up and walked away from the board, everyone was like, "wait a minute..." Haha.

It was special, though. On so many levels.

I am SO THANKFUL for this day.
The entire experience was AMAZING.

My heart is just overflowing right now, thinking about Michael out there, roughing it in the surf, and not giving up until he got HIS wave, and riding it ALL the way in.  I was/am/will always be SO PROUD of my husband.

I'm so thankful for Life Rolls On. For the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
For all of the volunteers.
For the people we met.
For our friends who came by to watch and hang out and meet us and spend time on the beach with us.
For my family.  Oh my word, my family.  You should have seen my sister, her mom, and her mother in law out there with their cameras.  Michael had a serious pack of blonde paparazzi out there, haha!
For my brother coming by when he got a break from work, just in time to see Michael ride his wave in.
For my amazing husband, who never gives up, who will try anything, and who I love more every day.
Major shout out to my sister for her awesome pictures of Michael surfing!!

I can't wait for next year!!


Amber said...

Absolutely Amazing! That is awesome that Michael got to experience that. I checked out the website as soon as you first posted and it looks like that location is the closest one to us, so maybe we'll have to plan a family vacation next year! :-) Wouldn't that be fun? Anyway, congratulations again to Michael and You! GREAT MEMORIES!!

Stephanie said...

I had tears in my eyes just looking at Tracy's pictures but this is beyond awesomeness. WOW the look on his face and the faces of the volunteers is priceless. Thanks for sharing!

Shavonne Imson said...

Amazing!! I had an amazing time too!! Wish me and my husband would have met you guys!! It's always nice to meet people who face the same challenges we do.

Anonymous said...

I volunteered at the LRO at Wrightsville Beach, NC this year and it truly was an amazing experience. I wish they did it more than once a year. If you're itching to participate twice in one year, we aren't too far from VA Beach! Maybe we'll see you next year!

gentrier said...

What a blessing u r to ur husband:)

Tricia T said...

Best blog post ever! (well, a close 2nd to the White House Christmas party!)So cool to see Mike w/ that HUGE grin on his face. And to see all the volunteers just as excited for him! Thanks for sharing! And way to go Mike!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dana,

I met your sweet sister Tracy while I was on the beach watching the other surfers and then you and Michael as we were leaving that day, remember us? :)

Like you, I am married to a wonderful man that is also a quad (C2-3 level injury). Last year was my husband Ben's first time to surf, and although he did enjoy it, he had some issues too. This year was the exact opposite and he surfed several waves and had a blast. The LRO volunteers are fantastic, they make this an exciting event because they are just as enthusiastic as the surfers themsleves.

If it is in God's plan we too will be there next year, maybe we can get together with our guys and get to know one another more :)

God Bless you both,
Robin Conley

Baby Bird said...

Rock on, Mr. Dandy! Awesome post!

Cheri said...

Dana. this is the best post. I just get teary thinking of the happiness you had this weekend. God is good!! Much love , Cheri

Brian Stokes said...

I am glad that you both had a good time. I helped ride the waves with Michael.
Thank you for calling me, "a big strong guy."
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a small talent that the Lord has given me.
Thank you for being considerate enough to mention the volunteers so often in your article.
I hope to see you all again next year!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

YES Amber!! It would. Michael and I have been talking about wanting to put together a retreat for couples like us. I would LOVE to have it in Va Beach, and organize it in a way that this event is part of our weekend together! They are such a wonderful organization. I am still on Cloud 9 about it all!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Thanks Stephanie! It was AWESOME. Can't wait to do it again!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Hey Brian! Hahaha, you ARE a big strong guy! I am so thankful for all that you guys do! It was such a TEAM effort, and I love that you not only shared in helping Michael to catch that wave, but you shared in his joy in it all, too! It was truly special. I'd love to keep in touch. I sent you a FB friend request. We need to tag you in my sister's pics!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Thanks, Cheri. I am still a little teary eyed about it all when I think about it, too!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Rock on Baby Bird! We love you and miss you. When am I going to see your sweet face and give your teeny little self a big hug?? Probably at the RNC convention, huh? Haha

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Hi Robin, of course I remember meeting you and Ben. My sister really enjoyed talking to you guys. Thanks for checking out our blog. We would LOVE to stay in touch? If you're on Facebook, find me there. (Dana Brown Ritter)

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Ever?? Haha. His smile is awesome, isn't it? He is a rock star. I love him. I think I'll keep him. :)

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Gentrie, my sister! I love you!! :)

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Hi Shavonne. I wish we would have met you too! I'm going to stalk you out on FB. :)

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Kudos to you for volunteering! It is fun, isn't it? I would LOVE to come down to Wrightsville Beach! I'll have to look into that!

Amy W. Carroll said...

Well, ya just got me good with that post! LOL! Such an awesome, incredible experience!!! If I had known, I would have joined that pack of blonde paparazzi's! LOL! Loved your blog post and loved the photos! You both continue to touch lives! xoxoxo
Amy W. Carroll

Anonymous said...

Dana and Michael, As Ian's mother, I would like to Thank You both so very much for being there and for your blog. Yours is such an inspiring story. You certainly have helped many people with your efforts. Blessings to you both. Irene Sandstrum

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Amy, you would have been a VERY WELCOME part of the blonde paparazzi! If you want, you can volunteer to photograph the event! They had a couple of professional photographers and videographers out there, it really is an amazing event to be a part of! Thanks for keeping up with us. You are so special to us, because you gave us such a beautiful gift of awesome wedding photos!

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Hi Irene! Thank you so much for checking our our blog! It was so nice to meet Ian and Julie and we can't wait to see them again the next time we are in Virginia Beach, what a great couple! Blessings to them and to you too!

derek benabou said...

Had such a good time helping.

Dana Brown Ritter said...

Thanks for helping, Derek! Hope to see you again next year!