This blog post was written by Nora Fitzpatrick, a board member of Autism Speaks’ National Capitol Area Chapter.
It was a tad chilly for mid August when we awoke this morning: a brisk 55° in Ocean City, MD. We grabbed our sweatshirts and headed out early, since our daughter Rory was scheduled to take to the waves in the first group of the day.
Surfers Healing 2013 was set up at the Castle in the Sand Hotel. We arrived to see volunteers bustling with last minute preparations. There were games set up, and an arts and crafts tent, and a DJ spinning the greatest hits at just the perfect volume, not so loud so that any surfers would be uncomfortable. It was a lovely way to start the day.
As 9:00 am neared, the crowd gathered in a circle to start the event. The fabulous local organizers were acknowledged, and the surfers posed for pictures in their bold orange and yellow shirts. Izzy Paskowitz, the co-founder of Surfers Healing with his wife Daniella, spoke to the crowd. Izzy was standing right in front of us, and my older daughter Grace and I were starstruck! We had been watching videos about Izzy and Surfers Healing all summer, preparing for this morning. After a blessing and song offered in Hawaiian, it was time to hit the ocean!
We made our way up to the tent where Rory would get her life jacket on. She was not exactly happy. The volunteers were incredibly patient with our girl. Like many medical professionals, teachers, and friends, they marveled that such a sweet blonde-headed 7-year-old girl could be THAT strong. After the life jacket was successfully put on, Rory met her surfer friend. She was still upset, but her new friend assured her that they were going to have fun, and not to worry. Another volunteer was on hand with a social story to assist in the transition. Rory’s new friend scooped her up and raced into the ocean.
It could not have been a more beautiful sight. Even though it was after 9:00 am, the sun on the waves gave the appearance of sunrise. Just as I took my spot in the roped off area for parents to watch from the sand, The Beach Boys “Warmth of the Sun” started playing. And there they were: dozens of kids of all ages and sizes, headed toward the shore with their new surfing buddy. Some were standing on the board riding the waves, and others were lying down and enjoying the ride. Tears on the sand turned into giant smiles on the board as they came back in with the surf.
We occasionally heard cries from a peeved Rory coming out from the ocean. She was hard to pick out from the shore, but the noises helped. She wasn’t upset, but still annoyed that she didn’t get her way. As I expected, she loved the waves and the speed of the ride. She emerged from the water a proud, but cold, little girl with a new surfer dude friend.
Today was amazing. Seeing Rory out there standing up on a surfboard riding the waves was almost unreal. The only thing better was the sight of all the new surfers riding right along side of her. The opportunity to be together with other families like ours, people who understand you immediately gives us all an immediate bond because we understand each other. The gratitude we feel toward these generous volunteers who come from far away to give our kids this amazing experience is enormous. As Izzy said this morning “Like you, we felt alone and having this family of autism really makes you feel a lot better.” All us parents stood together on shore, applauding wildly, with smiles a mile wide plastered on our faces.
To learn more about Surfers Healing or to register for an upcoming camp, visit surfershealing.org.