Ten athletes who have suffered spinal cord injuries will enjoy a day of surfing Friday, thanks to a national nonprofit agency dedicated to rehabilitating such injuries.

Empower SCI, founded in 2010, directs an annual two-week residential rehabilitation program, which this year began on July 14 at Stony Brook University.

During the span of the program, 10 athletes participate in adaptive surfing, kayaking, cycling and dance, aquatic and rhythm therapy, a quad rugby demo game with Jarrett Dreyer and the New York Warriors, yoga and other sports chair demos. In addition, the athletes receive therapy with physical therapists, occupational therapists and a rehabilitation counselor.

This week, through the use of surfboards and in connection with the Testaverde Fund for Spinal Cord Injury, program participants will have the opportunity to leave their wheelchairs on the shore and catch some waves at LI’s Long Beach.

According to Anthony Testaverde, president of the Testaverde Fund, the surfing event was organized under the motivation of his son Joe, a LI teen and surfing enthusiast, who was left paralyzed in his hands and legs after a swimming pool diving accident on July 4, 2000.

Jennifer McCallson, 33, an Empower peer mentor and quadriplegic, was paralyzed after a gymnastics accident shattered her first and fifth vertebrae at age 20. She said the surfing event will be a thrill for the program participants and that being set loose in the ocean is a special experience.

“The thought of being in the mighty ocean, independent of my wheelchair, feeling my freed body get splashed by the waves, getting saltwater up my nose and stinging my eyes, forms a lump in my throat and brings tears to my eyes,” McCallson said, speaking about the experience.

President and co-founder of Empower SCI, Carrie Callahan, said another benefit of surfing is just breaking the conception that it is impossible.

“It is addictive to help others accomplish things they never dreamed they could accomplish,” she said. “Surfing is just one [of those things] that once you break your neck, you think, ‘I could never do that again.’ And then comes Empower SCI to prove you wrong.”

Callahan said an entirely volunteer staff, which sacrifices their vacation days in order to make the program run successfully, supports the Empower SCI curriculum.

“If you are a part of it, you understand that the pay might not be in cash, but it’s lasting and can be life changing,” Callahan said. “Empower SCI is about the power of thought, the power of motivation and the power that one person -- and a group of people -- can bring to each other. And it’s not just the participants that win in this program -- our volunteers leave the program reinvigorated, with a new passion in life.”

And what was Callahan‘s spark to starting this special program? Simple: To provide a life-altering experience, one athlete at a time.

“When someone is trying to cope with a drastic injury like an injury to the spinal cord, they aren't focused on how to live their life well,” Callahan continued, “They are focused on survival. And this is the time that we, as a society, provide them with their most intensive rehabilitation. Empower SCI is the return to recreation, return to happiness, return to life.”

The adaptive surfing event will be held Friday, July 19 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Lido West Beach, off Lido Blvd., one block west of Marvel Dairy Whip. For more information click here.

Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at bdessart@strengthusa.com or on Twitter: @briandessart.

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