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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Making Beaches Safe So They Can Surf Again


Chad DeSatnick

Chad DeSatnick

By: Amy Wilson

Name: Chad DeSatnick
Injury: C6, C7
Mechanism of Injury: Surfing Accident
Date of Injury: September 30, 2001

For Chad DeSatnick, an avid beach-goer and surfer from age six, surfing has always been a way of life. However, at the age of 24, Chad suffered an injury that changed his relationship with the ocean, and with surfing.

Finding Motivation

In the fall of 2001, DeSatnick injured his spine while surfing in Cape May, NJ; leaving him with him with a shattered C6 and C7 vertebrae.

"I was kind of in unchartered territory, so I had to take what the neurosurgeon was telling me seriously," says DeSatnick. "But the fact that I was alive and breathing was a bit of a safety net. I definitely had in my head that I wanted to walk and surf again, so I took it as a challenge."

It was this attitude that would eventually lead DeSatnick to get involved with Life Rolls On (LRO), a subsidiary of the Reeve Foundation.

At its core, LRO is a grassroots organization that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for those affected by spinal cord injury through the use of action sports. Inspired by LRO's message, DeSatnick set a goal for himself that he would attend its golf tournament as soon as he was physically able to.

DeSatnick volunteering at TWSA

DeSatnick volunteering at TWSA

Moving on by rolling on

After achieving his goal and attending the event, DeSatnick became heavily involved with Life Rolls On.

"It was just a positive group of people" says DeSatnick, "that did not let spinal cord injuries limit the activities and the daily practices that they wanted to do." "Because I was able to walk again, it made me feel that it was important to give back to those who suffered permanent paralysis. I just feel like my involvement with LRO is a direct way to give back to the spinal cord injury community."

While volunteering for LRO, DeSatnick also started participating in the They Will Surf Again (TWSA) program, an event that focuses on allowing people with spinal cord injuries to get back in the water and enjoy surfing once again.

These events aim to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries, by allowing them to begin or continue surfing. Through this, TWSA hopes to show them that they can achieve anything that they think is outside of their ability to perform.

"When my friends and I came across TWSA it just seemed like a perfect opportunity to help those who had suffered from SCIs get back into the water," says DeSatnick.

Increasing injuries and increasing awareness

Taking what he gained from Life Rolls On, DeSatnick began lobbying for a spinal cord injury awareness program, one based in his hometown of Cape May, NJ.

DeSatnick began his program in response to an increase in the number of head and neck injuries along the beaches of Cape May. According to The Philadelphia Enquirer, these injuries were a result of a project to replenish the Cape May shoreline, conducted by the city of Cape May and the Army Corps of Engineers.

To prevent erosion and flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers began replenishing the shoreline in 1990. However, these replenishments also created steep cliffs and areas of shallow water close to the beaches. These changes increased the risk of injury for swimmers and resulted in an unprecedented number of head and neck injuries in Cape May.

Chad helping a child surf again at TWSA

Chad helping a child surf again at TWSA

According to the Cape May County Herald, DeSatnick has been lobbying continuously since 1991, to try and lessen the amount of head and neck injuries in Cape May by creating an awareness program. However, it wasn't until very recently that he was allowed enact his program.

Despite the resistance DeSatnick encountered in Cape May, his program has been a success. "When we created the awareness program two years ago, in 2008, there were 32 emergency c-spine (head, neck, and spine) calls," says DeSatnick. "That number has dropped to 15. I, along with the beach patrol and the fire department, were thrilled with that number dropping in half but, the ultimate goal is to have that number drop to zero."

Because of the success that DeSatnick has experienced in Cape May, he has high hopes for the future of his program.

"I think that the program we have created could be a national program for any shore community," says DeSatnick, "I don't know if it's feasible but a national program that's tied in with the lifeguards would be really beneficial for preventing injuries."

Supporting a lifestyle

"Surfing is a lifestyle. I've been doing it since I was about six or seven years old," says DeSatnick when he imagines how he would feel if he had never been able to surf again.

While DeSatnick can still surf after getting injured, he believes, "The unique part of Life Rolls On is that they create activities for people once they suffer a spinal cord injury. I think that those who are injured believe, once they are injured their life is over, but it's almost the opposite with Life Rolls On."

Learn More
Learn more about Life Rolls On.

The Adaptive Sports Center (ASC)A non-profit organization located in Colorado that provides year-round recreation activities for people with disabilities and their families.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Golf for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Sports and Competition (PDF)

American Association of AdaptedSportWorks to enhance the health, independence and self-sufficiency of youths with physical disabilities by facilitating adapted sports programs in local communities, in cooperation with schools, parks and recreation, YMCA/YWCAs, hospitals, parents and other groups.

Blaze Sports501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advances the lives of youth and adults with physical disability through sport and healthy lifestyles. BlazeSports provides sports training, competitions, summer camps and other sports and recreational opportunities for youth and adults with spinal cord injury, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy, amputation, visual impairment or blindness as well as other physical disabilities.

Disabled Sports USAOffers nationwide sports rehabilitation programs to anyone with a permanent physical disability. Activities include winter skiing, water sports, summer and winter competitions, fitness and special sports events. DSUSA, as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is the governing body for winter sports for all athletes with disabilities, and for summer sports for amputee athletes. Nationwide chapter network of sports and rec programs.

The Handicapped Scuba AssociationPromotes the physical and social well being of people with disabilities through the exhilarating sport of scuba diving.

Hand CyclingWhether for fitness, serious competition, or pure recreation, here's a sport that can be enjoyed by many and provide quite the "ride" at the same time.

International Paralympic CommitteeThe International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. The IPC organizes the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games, and serves as the International Federation for nine sports, for which it supervises and co-ordinates the World Championships and other competitions.

Life Rolls OnLRO is the story of able-bodied individuals, working in concert with those with spinal cord injury, to motivate each other with the inspirational message of achievement in the face of extreme adversity. Life Rolls On utilizes action sports through our flagship program, They Will Surf Again, which pushes the boundary of possibility for those with spinal cord injury (SCI).

National Wheelchair Basketball AssociationBasketball is perhaps the oldest organized sport for athletes in wheelchairs. The game is fast and fun, and played in dozens of cities across the U.S.

The National Center on AccessibilityNSCD provides recreation for children and adults with disabilities. In addition to recreational downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, NSCD provides year-round competition training to ski racers with disabilities. Summer recreation opportunities include biking, hiking, in-line skating, sailing, therapeutic horseback riding, white water rafting, baseball, fishing, rock climbing for the blind, and camping.

Quad RugbyFormerly known as murderball, Quad Rugby is a game for quads who can push a chair. Fast, rough and very competitive.

The United States Tennis AssociationTennis has been adapted for the wheelchair player: the ball can bounce two times. This allows chair-players to give standup players a run for the their money. The sport is growing fast and is very competitive at the elite level. Click on "community tennis."

U.S. ParalympicsA division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, it is dedicated to becoming the world leader in the Paralympic sports movement and promoting excellence in the lives of people with physical disabilities through education, sports programs and partnerships with community organizations, medical facilities and government agencies.

World T.E.A.M. SportsUnites people with and without disabilities through unique athletic events taking place all over the world.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.