by Ronnie Ayres | September 04, 2016
Working with Special Olympics paddle boarders and surfers in Vero Beach FL with Tim Capra
As we prepare for our weekly Thursday night Special Olympics SUP and Surf training, there's this feeling of excitement or nervousness that you get in the pit of your stomach. You never know how many athletes will show up, if the weather will hold out and if the condition of the water will be ideal. All of our concerns quickly evaporate when you see all the athletes there, waiting to get wet! Some of them are quick to jump right in and others are hesitant, just looking for a hand to hold, some guidance.
We have an amazing group of volunteers ranging from lifeguards, firemen, dental hygienists to doctors. Each of them have their own special way of helping the athletes out! We start on the beach side of Round Island Park, surfing for an hour. We go over every part of the board, from the nose to the tail, the fins and the leash. Some of the athletes need help carrying the board and putting on their leashes while others can handle it all on their own!
In the beginning, most of them have a look of fear on their faces just trying to get past the breaking waves. Once we have them out there and settled on the boards, waiting for a good wave, we start telling them when and how to paddle. Once they start, they paddle hard until the waves grabs and pulls them away, out of our capable hands. It's nerve wracking at first but when they just start to cruise, there is this complete release as all your worries and fears wash away.
As they head to shore some try standing, some kneeling and others just laying. You can see the giant smiles on everyone's faces! The joy they experience is infectious. Everyone starts hooting and hollering for the ride and the rider. It's as if you were riding the wave yourself. Those smiles that it creates makes it all worth it!!
After the surf session is complete, we all pack up and head to the river side of the park. This is where the magic happens! Some of the athletes that have the most fear on the ocean are the ones that love the SUP portion more. We have seen even the most hesitant athlete step or sit on a board and just let go. Again, the smiles are contagious, the laughter, infectious. I think it has something to do with the release of the board from dry land, that freedom that comes with it. I know we do this for competition, but that's not what keeps us, the volunteers, coming back for more. You can not help but become addicted to the happiness and the stoke that these athletes feel. It's like each time they're on the board is the first time. It never gets old. For any of us!