Volunteers help those with spinal injuries catch a wave

Volunteers carry Whitney Cranford of Hartsville, S.C., out to the water during the Life Rolls On Foundation ‘They Will Surf Again’ event at Wrightsville Beach on Saturday, August 7, 2010. The event gives people with spinal cord injury a chance to get in the ocean and ride waves. This is the 5th year that the event has come to Wrightsville Beach with more than 30 surfers and 140 volunteers taking part.

By David Reynolds
Dave.Reynolds@StarNewsOnline.com

Published: Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 9:48 p.m.

When she was growing up in Wilmington, Sara Jenkins loved hanging out on the beach, watching the surfers and dreaming of the day she’d get her chance to ride the waves.

But at 12, before Jenkins ever took up surfing, she was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a neurological pain syndrome, which has affected her spine and at times left her bedridden for months or years on end.

But after numerous surgeries, Jenkins, 27, walks with crutches and whenever she can find a Life Rolls On event, she surfs. Jenkins says just the thought of one day surfing helped her stay motivated through numerous medical treatments.

On Saturday, she was one of about 35 people, mostly with spinal injuries, who took part in a “They Will Surf Again” event at Wrightsville Beach, sponsored by the Life Rolls On foundation. About 200 volunteers helped the surfers into the water for a safe and exciting ride.

“It’s one of the most amazing, freeing experiences,” Jenkins said of surfing. “I’ve always wanted to and now I actually can.”

Life Rolls On is a branch of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which aims to find cures and treatments for paralysis. Members of local nonprofits and surf schools like Ocean Cure and Indo Jax, teamed with the Life Rolls On to hold the event Saturday at Wrightsville Beach.

Kevin Murphy, who directed the event said Saturday’s waves were fueled by Tropical Storm Colin, which brought some of the best surfing conditions of the summer.

Wade Nevitt, 25, is an avid surfer who lives in Wrightsville Beach. He loves the thrill of surfing, the sense of communing with nature and the idea of riding a wave that originated miles and miles away.

He said he couldn’t imagine ever having to quit, he said.

On Saturday, he helped share the sport he loves with Grey McDowell, an 18-year-old who had to stop surfing after he broke his neck jumping from a dock 14 months ago. McDowell grew up in Hatteras and had surfed all his life, but after his injury his doctor told him he would likely never fully walk again.

Now he uses a wheelchair and walks with the help of braces. McDowell surfed twice on Saturday, spent about 40 minutes in the water and said he caught his first barrel in years.

“He wanted to chase all the big ones,” Nevitt said. He and Sean Ahlun, a volunteer from Wilmington said McDowell could swim just using his arms.

For Will Archibald, 28,of Morrisville, the best part of Saturday’s event was finally hanging out on the beach again. Raised in Massachusetts, Archibald used to spend a lot of time at the ocean with friends.

But Saturday was his first full day back at the beach since he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in May 2009.

Before he arrived, Archibald says, he worried he might not have fun since he wouldn’t be able to do everything he once could.

But when he got on surf board everything changed. “I got to remember what salt water tasted like, and getting hammered with waves,” he said. “It’s cool.”

David Reynolds: 343-2075

OnTwitter.com: @StarNewsOnline

Click here for the original article online.

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