Turning 18 was one of the hardest times in my life; it was a couple of months after my amputation, studying for the SAT, still trying to grasp the english language while applying for college. What made it even harder was not being able to be as physically active. 5 years prior I was the fastest female runner in my class, on the basketball team, taking dance classes with dreams of learning how to play tennis one day. After my surgery I felt as if these dreams were crushed. I knew I could never run again so I gave up on working out. Playing sports is not just about the adrenaline rush and staying in shape, it improves social skills, has the ability to fight depression, teaches you about teamwork and problem solving.
While in college, I found a wheelchair basketball group in NYC, I applied for a grant through the Challenged Athlete Foundation, CAF and (although brief) even went on to play for the Lady Liberty (the official wheelchair basketball team of NY). Partly trying to break stereotypes about women with disability and partly wanting to challenge myself more, over the years, I took on swimming, rock climbing, boldering, yoga, water boarding and surfing.
Challenged Athletes Foundation was founded 25 yrs ago with the sole purpose of supporting people with disabilities by helping them be more active through sports. What makes it even more impressive is that people with disabilities who apply for grants to fund; equipments, coaching, gym membership or competition expenses– don’t have to so with the intent of playing professionally. Wether professionally or recreationally CAF believes that playing sport has the power to increase independence and self esteem.
I had the honor of attending CAF’s Annual Gala where I got to meet people with disabilities who have benefitted from CAF’s grants/programs and the volunteers and donors who make it all possible. The organization successfully raised 3 million dollars.
I heard the story of Jack Cunningham who was the lone survivor of a triplet pregnancy, he suffered complication and lost both of his legs. He received a grant from CAF and now runs for his school’s track team. Or Kelly whom I met days before the Gala at the CAF surf clinic in Long Island. She stated that CAF was “a community that is going to make your dreams come true”.
I was fortunate to attend their surf clinic in Long Island NY , an event made possible by CAF, Hurley Surf Club, Skudin Surf and Surf for All. It was only my third time surfing and I definitely drank less water than the first two times.
This experience was truly one of a kind. Seeing kids not only surfing for the first time but doing so with others who look like them and volunteers who understand their needs.
I tried my best to ride the waves standing. If I want to surf without any help from a surfer, I won’t be able to stand on the surfing board- The old me would have been frustrated and disappointed- setting performance goals and not being able to meet them. But that’s where adaptive sport comes in; it teaches you that it’s not about performing like everyone else but rather, trying your best and pushing yourself to do better each time. I ‘ll catch the wave on my stomach or my knee as soon long as I’m in the water having fun, I’ll be satisfied.