'It Makes Me Feel Whole, Like One Person Again. I Forget About My Legs'

LIDO BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A dip in the ocean never felt so good for some folks on Long Island on Friday. But for a special group of surfers, enjoying the waves was a remarkable accomplishment.

For Sara Tabor of Port Jefferson and Tom Ball of Farmingdale, life in a wheelchair is a struggle.

“I was hurt, had a steel beam come down on me and crush me,” Ball told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

“I fell in a shower in Germany, something as simple as that,” Tabor added.

“There are so many transfers a day. It just makes it a long day,” Ball said.

But on this Friday there was freedom — in the form of a surfboard.

With the help of volunteer spotters, nearly two dozen paralyzed people from around the world came to Lido Beach, were moved from wheelchairs into the churning waters, then hoisted onto surfboards and let loose.

“Getting out there clears my mind, just gets rid of all the demons that are still up there. It makes me feel whole, like one person again. I forget about my legs,” Ball said.

“You don’t think about our wheelchair. You don’t think about having to jump a curb in Midtown or having to load your chair in the car at the end of the day,” Tabor said.

The group “Wheels to Water” came to Long Island from California via a young Wantagh man who suffered a devastating fall into a pool.

An avid surfer before his injury, Joe Testaverde and his father have since helped hundreds experience a feeling that vanished when they lost the use of their legs.

“When you see the smile on other people’s faces, especially first time out surfing, it reminds me that life is not over and keep fighting,” Testaverde said.

Volunteers flooded the shoreline to be a part of a special team effort.

“As an able-bodied person, you don’t see this every day and you don’t know what they go through on a daily basis, so it’s good to get a different perspective on life,” one volunteer said.

There were wipe-outs but eventually there were also priceless moments.

“It felt great straightening my legs, getting off my chair … it just felt awesome,” Ball said.

“That was an experience!” another surfer said.

They’ll hit the surf again in September.

Many of the participants Friday were students from a spinal cord injury summer program at Stony Brook University.

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