Monday, July 27, 2009

US Open of Surfing!!

On Sunday, July 26, 2009, I became the first woman with a disability to surf in the 8th Annual Expression Session with the non-profit organization, Life Rolls On (LRO), at the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, CA. It was by far the best day of my life.... ever! As the world’s largest surfing competition, I was viewed by an estimated 500,000 people at the US Open of Surfing who gather each year to watch the top surfers compete from all around the world.

I had the best time while at the Open meeting new friends, getting to know others better, and having a chance to be on the beach once more. It was a sleepless weekend, but I got to hang out with some really fantastic people like Cory Staley, Grant Kobayashi, Christiaan Bailey, Patrick Ivison (and his family), Dave King, and Ted Canedy. These guys all are amazing men who I'm grateful to call friends!

(Back Row L-R): Grant Kobayashi, Ted Canedy, Dave King
(Front Row L-R): Christiaan Bailey and me

Returning for the 8th year as the “Official Charity” of the US Open of Surfing, Life Rolls On Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injury (SCI) and uses action sports as a platform to inspire infinite possibilities despite paralysis. LRO utilizes action sports to push the boundary of possibility for those with SCI through outreach education programs, motivation, and awareness.

Aren't the sunsets beautiful?? I love where I live!

On Sunday, July 26, preceding the Men’s Finals, I, along with three Life Rolls On surfers, charged the waves for the LRO “THEY WILL SURF AGAIN” EXPRESSION SESSION – a special exhibition of Life Rolls On’s signature program, They Will Surf Again.

I had a fantastic team of Cory Staley, Scott Caan, Jesse Faen, Grant Kobayashi, and Mike Brown among others to help her pull of a successful surf... catching all four waves without a single wipe out. The crowd lined the Huntington Beach Pier, the bleachers, and the sand as everyone cheered for me as the first woman as well as the fact I'm Ms. Wheelchair California! It was such an amazing day! I wish you could see what I saw from my point of view. It will forever be encapsulated in my mind as a very monumentous occasion.

Below, I was joined (L-R) Patrick Ivison, Christiaan Bailey, and Jessie Billauer (not shown) in the VIP Athlete Zone for quick media and press before we went out into the crowd to surf! What a fantastic day in history!

The waves were extremely big the day before, so everyone was a bit nervous about the surfing conditions for Sunday. However, they calmed down a little, though still dangerous. The current was extremely strong, and with that type of pull, it made for a difficult paddle out. I'm thankful for Cory and Scott who definitely helped put my mind at ease beforehand (though later they both told me that they were just making stuff up to make me feel better and knew the waves were tough! Crazy friends, but I love them for that!)

Afterwards, the four surfers lined up in front of the LRO booth for media and press interviews. Thank you to Life Rolls On for your undying support of people with spinal cord injuries/disabilities and for helping everyone become more aware that life does go on! I have so many great memories of the weekend, and I can't wait to be back out in the surf again very soon!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hanging Ten with Simon Baker | Extra

Saturday, I surfed again with Life Rolls On, but this time up in Malibu, CA. It was probably one of the best days ever.

Recently, I have started to teach myself how to be mindful of situations I am. I've tried to learn how to enjoy moments as they happen - take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the conversations. It has totally changed my outlook on so many events in life in a more powerful and dramatic way that intensifies my memories of things.

I had the opportunity to interview with Terri Seymour of Extra! television and CBS's star of "The Mentalist," Simon Baker on Saturday while surfing in Malibu. Both of these two people have such kind hearts and are truly amazing people. Special thanks to Life Rolls On for making yet another great event so successful!
The fabulous Blue Team helped support me in so many ways. Cory Staley, Scott Caan, and Simon Baker were amazing out in the water among all the others there to serve. Their help is what makes first time experiences change people's lives.

I only wiped out twice, but probably caught about 4 waves in the 20 minute allotment. I could have stayed out there forever. I think I'm starting to grow fins, because I'm totally hooked. I'm addicted to the ocean now, and long to be near it every chance I get.

Terri Seymour has the kindest and sweetest spirit. I'm so happy I had the opportunity to meet such a gentle and fun woman. Not to mention she's beautiful, it's truly evident that her heart is that much more beautiful. She works so hard and always has a smile on her face. Such an encouraging woman!

For a more indepth interview by Extra! television, check out the video below. Thanks Extra and Terri!
*some photos courtesy of Kim LaBonte.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Moving On and Up... to Celebrate!

There is much to celebrate in the week to come! SO MUCH to celebrate! When I look back over the last nine years since Satan tried to take my joy away from me by putting me in a wheelchair, boy was he wrong and unsuccessful!! I admit, he had me for the first few years. But praise the Lord my Jesus pulled me through the fire and rescued me like Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego! (Daniel 3 in the Bible).

As you all are aware, my nine (9) year anniversary since becoming paralyzed is coming up on Wednesday, July 29th. I have so much I want to share with thousands of people of what God has brought me through, challenged me with, and helped me triumph over that I can hardly contain myself these days! God is GOOD, no matter the situation! Even through the pain and tears, He hears you, and He knows that it won't last forever.

As the day approaches, I have so much happening that gets me so excited, especially as I look back to where I was at the beginning of this disability nine years ago. This Saturday, I'll be in Malibu surfing with Life Rolls On again for their 25th Anniversary Celebration. Big things in store that day including filming with a well known actor (whom I can't mention at the moment) for a well known television show (which I can't say). And of course, surfing! It will be my last run before the big event.... the US Open of Surfing!!

I have been asked to surf in the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Sunday, July 26th. I'll be making history as I'll be the first female with a disability to ever surf in the Open! EVER! I am blessed and extremely honored to be given this unique opportunity. I'll be surfing in front of an expected 400,000 people that day. Lots of media, press, and people will be swarming around "Surf City USA" as the top surfers in the world come to compete. And to think I'll be surfing in the same competition as these great athletes blows my mind.

In the next thirteen (13) days, there are several other events that I have going on in between these two surfing events (other than training at the gym every day, not to mention going to work, too) including the 6th Annual "Magic of Mobility" Gala for Free Wheelchair Mission, an Angels Baseball game, Fish Fest 2009, and a trip to Disneyland!

The 29th, however, is a very special day for me. It's my day, and I share it with only one other human being - the person I was in the accident with (who yes, is still alive.) She is the only other person who was there at that moment when it seemed as if the world stopped. Unfortunately, though, that person chooses not to speak to me but on rare occasions and it's only through email. It hurt me for many, many years that she didn't want anything to do with me now that I was paralyzed. At least that was my perception. But, I have learned that life must continue on for me. I cannot put my life on hold waiting for someone else. My wishes and hopes to rekindle what was never
reciprocated became an anchor to me that kept me in the past and made it very difficult to push forward to the future. Now that I have released many of those ropes that I held on to so tightly regarding my past, it's fantastic to see how God has blown open the doors of blessings for me.

There are several things that I do each July 29th that comes, but most are left sacred in a special place in my heart. I like it that way. I hold these "rituals," if you will, close to my soul and don't let people know about what I do and/or why they mean so much to me. I guess it's my way of paying tribute and respect as well as memorializing a day that changed my life forever.

So, in a few days I will be celebrating the last nine (9) years for the first time rather than mourning it. I am a survivor, and even though I may not be walking yet, I have overcome this disability with the help of Jesus and all my faith walkers who have walked right alongside this journey with me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not abandoning me, giving up on me, or letting me get away with old thoughts/habits. Let the celebration begin!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Deciphering God's Will

The biggest knife in the heart has happened. For two years, I have been cultivating a relationship with a large local church about the opportunity for them to become a distribution partner of ours and distribute wheelchairs to those with disabilities in Rwanda. It also happens to be my home church here in California. A year and a half later in January 2009, that reality happened! Soon thereafter, we received more than enough funds to order our first container of wheelchairs (550) to send to Rwanda.

At that time, I was asked by my company to lead a trip to Rwanda in July 2009 to help with the distribution process but to also allow others an opportunity to share in the joy of what we do. I had worked hard at setting up multiple meetings, talking with people, and spending many hours after work and on weekends getting trained by the church to be a leader for their mission trips. Due to another big event that our company puts on in July, it was advised that we reschedule the trip to September so I could be at the July event. So, the mission trip was moved to September.

Within a weeks time, all but one of the participants of the trip had something come up in which they were unable to go because of us moving the trip time from July to September.

This week, I was told that I need to once again reschedule my trip to Africa from September to sometime next year so that we can include supporters of our organization as well as have more funds in the bank to pay for my trip.

This really, really breaks my heart, because of the relationship I have established with this partner and the expectations the church and people of Rwanda had for me to be there in September. I got to meet Eric Munyemana of Rwanda while he was her for the Purpose Drive Conference last month, and to hear him talk about how excited he was in his broken English about the wheelchairs coming and my presence brought tears to everyone's eyes. I could see God's will clearly.

The government officials in Rwanda were so excited about me coming to their country to not only be an advocate for those with disabilities, but to also help change the country for the better. They had meetings set up for me to meet with the United Nations Convention to help ratify the Constitution of Rwanda to include laws for people with disabilities, speak at the National Paralytic Convention, have a Press Conference with the Cabinet and Parliament of the country, have a private meeting with the President of Rwanda, meet with the Ministry of Health, teach classes on living an independent lifestyle at the hospitals in the country, meet with each leader from each Providence within the country, and be a part of several radio, television, and newspaper interviews as well as distribute wheelchairs to the disabled poor. But, because these supporters of my organization are unable to go on this mission trip, my company doesn't think it's worth the investment of $4000 to send just me over there by myself.

I'm heartbroken and have cried many tears over this decision for the past few weeks as I have looked forward to this trip since January. I wish I had $4000 to pay for it on my own. I have no doubt that God wants me there to help this country. I have the unique opportunity to help thousands of people with a disability in a developing country have a better life simply by being an advocate for them at the government level! But, I can't get there. It's hard to fight back tears when the sting in your eyes and heart is so painful. I just don't understand my company's decision. They say I could go next year, but who's to say those opportunities with the government will still be there? Who's to say I'll have donors available to go on that trip? Who's to say we'll have enough funds to send me? And the worst part of it all is that my President came down to talk to me two days ago and said, "We really want you to go on a mission trip, Alyson. But, if I had to choose one, it wouldn't be Africa because of your disability." I really do not like when people think they know what's best for me when it comes to my disability. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, "I appreciate your concern about my safety regarding my disability, but I would ask that you would let me be the judge of what I can and can't do when it comes to my disability. I've been in a wheelchair for 9 years. You haven't." I was so, so upset.

So, this week, I've felt very empty, not supported, and not encouraged. I simply can't wrap my heart around the fact that I can't help people even though I want to so bad because someone else thinks they know what's best. There is a Higher calling, and I find it discouraging that in three of the five "Values and Principles" we have as an organization it says "We conduct our mission with integrity and humility. We honor God in all we do, and We value individuals and relationships." There has to be something I'm missing that God will reveal to me later, but I am so certain that this is where God wanted me to be... in Rwanda... making God-sized changes so that people who are getting wheelchairs are able to use them, be independent, and live successful lives. This can't happen unless someone like me comes in and changes the country's perception! Perhaps it still is where I am supposed to be, but a miracle is going to have to happen at this point. A financial miracle and a change of heart miracle.

I know you don't know where you stand in your relationship with God, but please pray for me. This is one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make... sacrificing my own desires for that of my company's. Having to be honoring to my employer while feeling like I'm letting God down. My heart has never had to struggle like this before, and I don't think anyone else is seeing what I see through God's eyes.

If you feel led and are interested in making a significant financial contribution to help get me to Rwanda, please contact me on my website. Since the trip leaves September 4th, the miracle has to happen soon.

Thank you for your prayers,


Monday, July 6, 2009

Michael Jackson Memorial Service

Here is the email I received last evening (click on the picture for a better view). Sadly, I did not get chosen to attend the Memorial Service being held at the Staples Center tomorrow morning for Michael Jackson. I was one of the first to apply online since I was home when the first announcement came flashing across the television screen announcing information about applying for tickets. I applied with three different email addresses, too.

Alas, I will be watching it from home. I guess that's better anyway, but I was willing to fight the traffic and people. No matter what anyone says, Michael Jackson was an amazing entertainer, artist, song writer, and singer. I remember my first album being "Thriller".... on a record! I would make up dance routines in my basement as a little girl to songs like "Beat It" and "Billy Jean." I still remember some of them to this day! Losing Michael Jackson is like losing a big part of my childhood. I grew up with his music and can mark time periods in my life by his songs.

Perhaps this man was very misunderstood (or not) during his lifetime, but he certainly helped pave the way for many artists in the music industry today. He allowed African American's to be in homes across America through television, magazines, and music. He alone did this despite ridicule, persecution, speculation, and criticism. It's a reminder to us all that we have a choice to leave a legacy when we pass away.

How will people remember you?