New York, NY—August 15, 2017
Everyone into the water! Not words you’d expect to hear from a hospital, but young patients were thrilled to experience the big waves in Long Beach, Long Island, when New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery took them on an adaptive surfing trip this week.
Seventeen patients, many with cerebral palsy, got the chance to ride the waves thanks to the Adaptive Sports Academy at the hospital’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion. "The academy organizes trips and recreational experiences for pediatric patients to build their self-confidence, encourage independence, and increase physical activity and mobility," said Siobhan Clarke, a pediatric physical therapist at the hospital who also surfs and owns a home in Long Beach.
Adaptive sports are competitive or recreational sports for people with disabilities. Sometimes rules or equipment is modified to meet the needs of participants. The hospital program is offered without cost, thanks to the generosity of donors and sponsors. "Adaptive sports not only enable people to experience the benefits of exercise. They always feel empowered after trying a new activity and succeeding," says Clarke.
Patients on the trip ranged in age from 5 to 21. Most have cerebral palsy or another condition that affects body movement, muscle control, posture and balance. Many have had multiple surgeries by pediatric orthopedic surgeons at Hospital for Special Surgery and have been patients for years.
Some of the young people use crutches or a walker to get around and needed a wheelchair to navigate the sand and get to the water. But that didn’t stop them from getting on the surfboard. On previous hospital outings, they were thrilled to learn they could climb a rock wall or ski down a slope.
It was the academy’s first surfing trip, enabling patients like Sidorela LLeshi to participate in a sport she never dreamed possible. A 21 year-old college student with a lovely smile and gentle way, she soaked up the sun until it was her turn to ride the waves. "It was thrilling… the water was so cool. My muscles are tight, and sometimes I have spasms, but it felt like they loosened in the water."
Twelve year-old Aidan Conroy, hesitant at first, could barely contain his excitement after he rode his first wave. As the event was winding down, he pleaded for one last ride and dashed toward the water when his instructor was ready to go.
The kids learned to surf from the best of the best. World-class surfers Will and Cliff Skudin, well-known and admired among surfing enthusiasts, provided the lessons, along with their specially trained staff at Skudin Surf.
"Outings such as this are a wonderful opportunity for the kids to socialize with other patients and accomplish things they didn’t realize they could achieve," says Peyton Katz, pediatric patient and family care coordinator at HSS. "Some kids are not sure at first how well they’ll do, but they always exceed their own expectations. Some parents cry when they see what their child can accomplish."
"The Adaptive Sports Academy gives our patients a chance to develop new skills and interests, and it promotes mobility and activity. It also reinforces therapy goals by engaging participants in a new activity and requiring them to use their bodies in a new way," explains Dr. Lisa Ipp, chief of Pediatric Medicine at Hospital for Special Surgery.
Lying face down on her small surfboard, 5 year-old Brooklyn cried out with excitement as she rode a wave onto shore with her instructor. It was fun for her mom, too. "She’s having a good time, so I’m having a good time," said Andrea McDonald smiling broadly. “How can you beat this? This is surfing for a child with disabilities. That’s as good as it gets."