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Wake For Warriors event shares the shred with wounded vets

Wake For Warriors at MBAC

On Sept. 11, 2001, Lance Corporal Sarah Rudder was attending a ceremony at the Pentagon. Suddenly, she felt a tremor that resembled an earthquake and saw smoke and flames billowing into the air from an airliner that had just crashed into the hallowed building. Without hesitation, Sarah and her fellow Marines ran into the fray and began to help in any way they could. 

As Sarah pulled a victim from the wreckage, her foot and lower leg fell into a crevasse, severely injuring her foot and ankle. Unaware of the extent of her injuries, she continued to assist for the next 24 hours. It wasn’t until she stopped to assess her injuries that she realized the only thing holding her tattered ankle in place was her boot. Over the next couple of years, Sarah had several reconstructive surgeries, but ultimately decided to amputate her leg due to the pain from nerve damage.

For injured servicemembers like Sarah, the road to recovery can be long, and many activities they once enjoyed may seem out of reach. Through a grant from the California State Parks, Division of Boating and Waterways and a sponsorship from the Semper Fi and America’s Fund, the Mission Bay Aquatic Center (MBAC) teamed up with the Wake For Warriors Foundation this past spring and offered two days of wakesurfing for heroes with service-related injuries to improve their physical and emotional healing.

Sarah Rudder receives pointers from a fellow amputee.
Courtesy of Wake For Warriors

As Sarah shares, events like these, where participants are able to access activities they enjoy and would otherwise be unable to, are a “literal lifesaver.” Showing the tattoo on her forearm of a woman holding a surfboard looking at the sunset over the ocean, she explains that it memorializes her connection to the water, and her time surfing with her best friend and roommate who succumbed to suicide. After losing her, revisiting surfing and board sports was really difficult, though with the support of her fellow servicemembers and Wake 4 Warriors this spring, her return to the water was a blessing.

“It is so amazing to get back on a board again,” Sarah explained while pulling up her wetsuit sleeve to share her tattoo. “It took a while to trust my leg, but once I did, I was good to go.”

Like Sarah, Erick Espinoza is a hero who lost both of his legs in a vehicle accident upon returning from deployment. During his recovery, Erick never imagined he would do anything like surfing again until he ran into Jason, a volunteer with Wake For Warriors at a car wash. Jason steered Erick to Wake For Warriors and told him how the organization was creating opportunities for healing and growth out on the water. Before Erick knew it, he was on a plane to San Diego to try wakesurfing.

After a couple of tries, Erick was determined to get up and surf. 

“One more time!” said Erick’s boat in unison, the unofficial mantra at Wake For Warriors activities. With the encouragement of his brothers and sisters in service, Eric gracefully glided down the face of the wave with a smile on his face. He was surfing.

Courtesy of Wake For Warriors

When asked what he felt when he got up and carved the wave Erick answered “I felt so alive.”

For the rest of the event surfing seemed easy as Erick shred the waves again and again with a contagious smile from ear to ear. He has since wakesurfed two more times, including travelling to Georgia to surf with vets from across the country.

As we approach the Fourth of July, the MBAC is reflecting on our days with these servicemembers and looks forward to the next time we get to share the shred with Wake for Warriors and Semper Fi Fund.

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Have any words for these heroes this Fourth of July? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

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