Healing old wounds with saltwater

By Cleo Fraser


For Dan Buckingham, trying surfing was near impossible _ until Saturday.
The 28-year-old, who a decade ago lost the use of his legs, was one of about 20 disabled people who glided through the surf in front of Omanu Surf Life Saving Club on Saturday.
"It was a real blast," Mr Buckingham said.
"I definitely want to get out there again. It was so awesome having salt water in your face again. The feeling is really hard to put into words."
The captain of the Wheel Blacks wheelchair rugby team came down from Auckland to take part in the inaugural event run by Tauranga-based Disabled Surfing New Zealand through Sport Bay of Plenty.
Participants were aged 7 to 70.
With disabilities ranging from being paralysed from the neck down, having Down syndrome or epilepsy, each person was surrounded by at least six volunteers _ about 80 turned out to help out on the day. Then they either lay in a ``sleeping bag' with handles or stood on a 10-foot long surfboard to ride waves.
Volunteers either straddled the board and steered or created a tunnel to the shore, steering the board for the rider.
For Mr Buckingham, who won a gold medal with the Wheel Blacks at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, it was only the second time he had been in the ocean since breaking his neck in a scrum playing rugby in Dunedin in 1999.
Two weeks ago friends took him to the beach in Whangamata.
"My mate had to carry me out on his back," he recalled.
"I couldn't go out far. Once I'm out there it's really tough work staying up."
Having so many volunteers in the surf on Saturday made the whole experience more enjoyable and safe, he said.
As a child growing up in the South Island the Attitude TV presenter _ a TV1 programme aimed at people living with disabilities _ spent much of his time playing in the ocean with family and friends.

Before his accident he was also a keen surfer.
``It really was awesome to experience that again.'
For 60-year-old Sue Job it was the first time she had been in the ocean since being confined to a wheelchair after contracting Guillain Barre Syndrome _ a number of diseases which attack the nervous system _ five years ago.
``It was one of my goals [to go in the sea],' the Rotorua woman said. ``I was really nervous because I can't control my grip ... but there were so many people helping that I felt really safe. It was just such an awesome feeling. Better than anything.'
Organiser Pete Roberts said it was a thrill to see the smiles on people's faces as they glided
across the waves. ``I think the ocean is such a healer.
``I get such a buzz from getting people out there in the water. It is the simple stuff that we often take for granted.'
The former professional swimmer said he could never imagine not being able to enjoy the ocean. _ his inspiration to organise the event.
Mr Roberts plans to run another surfing day for people living with disabilities near the end of the year and hopes it will become an annual event.
He praised the ``awesome' volunteers, which included a group of students from De La Salle College in Mangere, South Auckland, for the making the day possible.
Dan Buckingham is also a presenter on Attitude TV. The Disability Surfing New Zealand event at Omanu Beach will feature on the show next Sunday at 10am on TV1. Pete Roberts can be contacted on 021-994-551.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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