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They Will Surf Again Participants find Adventure, Joy

Wilmington, NC – They Will Surf Again is an annual event sponsored by the Life Rolls On Foundation. With the help of local volunteers, people who use wheelchairs for a variety of reasons like spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders set out to catch waves.

WHQR's Sara Wood travelled to Wrightsville Beach early Saturday morning as volunteers and participants were gearing up for the waves.

Around 8am at Beach Access 4, the wind is brisk, the first real sign of fall. More than 100 people show up, eagerly eyeing the water because it's warmer than the air.

Whitney Cranford is sitting under a tent, wrapped in a blanket as she watches the calm waves in hopes that they intensify.

For the second year in a row, she's travelled from Hartsford, South Carolina.

Cranford uses a wheelchair because she has cerebral palsy, which affects brain, nervous system and muscular functions. She says there's nothing to worry about in the water because she completely trusts the volunteers.

"They ask you how you want to be picked up, which is really cool. And then they put you on the board on your stomach and make sure you're secure, and then they're constantly asking you if you're secure do you need to move? There's really nothing to be afraid of, as soon as I fell off, hands were grabbing me."

Participants and volunteers break into teams and spread out so that four surfers are in the water at once. For each surfer, there are 10 volunteers who move with them from an adaptive board on the shore to the waves.

Cranford's been looking forward to this event since last year.

"It's a rush. At first, when I took off on my first wave it kind of took my breath away because it was a shock. But after that, it's just a rush. The best part about it, for me, it's the one sport that I can do, so getting smacked in the face doesn't really phase me that much."

The water starts to bustle with surfing activity and the crowd on the shore thickens. Many people out on a morning stroll are captivated and stay to watch the surfers. They mingle with the land volunteers.

Like many of the participants, several of the volunteers keep coming back. Sean Ahlum returns for his fifth year.

"To be able to take somebody out who normally wouldn't be able to get into the water on their own, and kind of help them overcome that fear and push them into a wave and watch their face light up as they reconnect with something that they lost that was so personal to them, it's pretty intense."

Ivy Kennedy came down from Virginia Beach. It's actually her fifth event as well, but she also surfs a few times during the year.

Ivy has cerebral palsy, and she has always loved the water because it frees her of her muscle spasms.

Her younger brother Micah is guiding her into the waves. Micah lives and surfs in Wilmington and is volunteering for the first time.

As Ivy closes in at the end of her surf session, she pulls a surprising move.

"She got up on her knees; I didn't have a clue she was going to try and do it. She said it and everybody kind of looked at me and said, Is that OK?' And I said, Yeah.' She wants to do it; let her wipe out on her own. It's fine with me."

Ivy says along with feeling the sense of movement the waves grant her, the fact that so many people showed up to volunteer is overwhelming.

"You know, the first I did it, it made me cry, because it was an overwhelming sense of community. People with disabilities can do anything if given the chance. It's all about perception and being open to different ways of doing things."

As she waits for her next go at the waves, Ivy sits next to Micah along the water's edge, no wheelchair, on her knees cheering for the others. And like many of her fellow surfers, she plans to return next year.

Learn more about the Life Rolls On Foundation.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the WHQR News Team.