MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
Not long ago, Cpl. Adam Romero stepped off a plane from Iraq carrying sea bags containing the necessities of his career.
Today, the 25-year-old carries a different type of bag – a mesh sack containing sun block, duct tape, a towel and wetsuit.
Romero is a regular volunteer for “Life Rolls On,” a non-profit organization offering surfing lessons and other athletics to children with spinal-cord injuries.
According to the Life Rolls On Web site, every 49 minutes someone in the United States sustains a spinal injury. Fifty-two percent become paraplegic, while 47 percent become quadriplegic.
The program reaches out to the disabled, and pairs them with able-bodied volunteers who mentor and prove that life really does roll on.
“When I got back from my deployment, I needed something to fill my free time, to give me the same sense of purpose I felt in Iraq,” said Romero. “After a friend introduced me to this program and I attended my first event, I was hooked.”
A typical volunteer day for Romero consists of: driving up California’ coastline to an event location – which varies depending on the weather and the surf – putting on his wet suit and prepping the boards for the surfers.
To make the wave riding more convenient, the volunteers created improvised adaptations to the boards. Foam pool toys paired with duct tape became arm and hip rests for the injured surfers.
For each run, the volunteers transport kids to the shoreline in beach wheel chairs, equipped with large, inflatable wheels that float until they get deep enough to transfer the child onto the surfboard. Three volunteers support the child on the board and walk out to the breaking point. Once they decide on a wave, they allow the child to ride it in, with volunteers placed to catch the child in case of a wipeout.
“Adam has been instrumental in planning the Life Rolls On Events,” said Robbie Nelson, a safety and water-safety consultant. “He has a good heart, a good spirit and we’re glad to have him out here.”
Romero, a fiscal clerk for Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, says his favorite part of the event is witnessing the happiness on a child’s face as he rides a wave for the first time.
“A smile is the universal language,” said Romero. “The ones you get from a paralyzed child as you pull him out of his wheelchair and put him on a surfboard says the same thing as the smile of an Iraqi child who just received school supplies or candy.”
He and the other volunteers build strong bonds and become good friends with the kids and families who attend the events regularly.
“The first time I was in the water, I felt like I was flying,” said Patrick Ivison, an LRO participant. “Sometimes I get scared when I see a huge wave swelling up, but then I turn around and see Adam and the other volunteers waiting to catch me, they are like my older brothers.”
Romero plans to continue volunteering for LRO as long as he is stationed in San Diego.
For more information on LRO, or to volunteer, visit www.liferollson.org.