It had been more than 34 years since Sheehan Verner climbed aboard a surfboard. In 1981, at the age of 17, he became quadriplegic following a pool accident that injured his spinal cord.
But Verner, now age 52, felt no hesitation as he hit the waves at "They Will Surf Again," an annual event sponsored by Sharp Rehabilitation Services and Sharp Memorial Hospital, and organized by the Marina del Rey-based Life Rolls On Foundation.
"Just because you have a disability doesn't mean you can't do things," says Verner, a San Diego elementary school teacher. "You just do things differently."
"They Will Surf Again" is one of several programs in which Sharp Rehabilitation participates to improve the quality of life for people affected by catastrophic injuries or illnesses. The powerful event — held at La Jolla Shores — allows participants with disabilities to experience the thrill of surfing with the help of adaptive equipment and dedicated volunteers.
Verner was one of 25 Sharp Rehabilitation patients to catch a wave that day. In total, more than 120 San Diegans with disabilities participated. Nearly 500 volunteers assisted, including dozens of supporters who ensure participants are safe in the water.
The event is a signature program of Life Rolls On Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource and advocate for people whose lives have been affected by spinal cord injury and other disabilities. The organization was founded by Jesse Billauer after a surfing accident in 1996 left him paralyzed on the brink of a promising professional career in surfing.
Sharp Rehabilitation has sponsored "They Will Surf Again" since 2012.
"Events like these are indispensable, which is why we are so proud to participate," says Dr. Jerome Stenehjem, medical director for Sharp Rehabilitation. "To have this kind of experience after suffering a traumatic injury … it's life-changing."
Sharp Rehabilitation offers San Diego's most diverse spectrum of adapted sports activities for people with disabilities, including quad rugby, wheelchair lacrosse, adapted water sports and aquatics, wheelchair tennis, adapted skiing, and more.