Still In The Lineup Despite Disability

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 27, 2008
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Richard Julian, a paraplegic
Richard Julian, a paraplegic, caught some waves with, from left, Tommy Chorman, Brian Vandine and Dennis Mosher of AccesSurf

Ryan Levinson is losing muscles at a rate that would frighten most people, but the words fear and limits are not in his vocabulary.

“I can’t do a push-up or a situp and I’m losing muscles all over my body, but that doesn’t mean I can’t surf,” Levinson says proudly. “I am a surfer, so don’t write me off in the lineup.”

Levinson has muscular dystrophy, a group of inherited disorders that cause progressive muscle weakness. Despite challenges, there’s nothing weak about his spirit.

“For me, it’s hard to notice my disability because I’m not missing a leg or an arm, but I can’t lift my arms over my head,” says Levinson. “I’ve been surfing for 20 years, but now it’s getting very hard to paddle.”

Levinson and several other surfers with disabilities recently participated in the inaugural Challenged Athlete Division of Surfing, one of more than a dozen events during the week-long Duke’s OceanFest and perhaps the most emotional.


“It was amazing for both the participants and their families,” says Mark Marble, founder and president of AccesSurf Hawaii. “Everyone that sees it - it affects them. It is so awesome that these athletes were included in a mainstream event. It’s just wonderful beyond words.”

Four surfers from California and four more from Hawaii hit the surf at Waikiki’s Kuhio Beach, overcoming muscular dystrophy, quadriplegia, paraplegia and amputations. Marble credits the leaders of the Duke Kahanamoku Foundation who had the vision to make this happen.

“This is helping push forward our mission to make our beaches accessible to all,” says Marble. “People with disabilities don’t want to sit under the banyan trees when they get to the beach. They want to enjoy the surf and the sand. I’m really honored and blessed the Duke Kahanamoku Foundation sees this too.”

Marble founded AccesSurf Hawaii in November 2006 as an advocate for those with disabilities. Since then, the group has served more than 400 athletes - athletes like Ryan Levinson.

“He was an avid surfer before his diagnosis, and you just don’t know how much this means to him to be included again,” says Marble, a recreational therapist. “They don’t want a handout. They want to get out there and push the envelope, because it pushes them as an athlete.”


“I have to modify my technique and technology to catch waves, but I am still a surfer,” says Levinson with a smile. “Eventually, as I lose more muscle, I will have to go tandem with someone who can paddle for me, but until then I’m still a surfer.”

Marble anticipates the event will expand next year to include athletes from Japan, Australia and New Zealand. He believes it’s just a matter of time before this event hosts competitors from around the world.

“Duke was the ambassador of aloha to the world, inviting people to Hawaii while introducing the world to surfing,” says Marble. “What better place to provide an opportunity for a challenged athlete to compete in a real, certified competition? Duke would like it that way.”

You get the feeling he’s right, and somewhere out there Duke is smiling.

And so is Ryan Levinson.

 

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