One minute, Renata Glasner is watching the waves crash on Leblon beach from her wheelchair. The next, she’s ploughing through the turbulent waters, riding the choppy waves on a specially adapted surfboard.
Glasner, a 35-year-old graphic designer who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago, is one of dozens of disabled people on this special strip of Rio de Janeiro beach who are conquering the waves. Men and women with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, people missing a limb, the blind, the deaf and even the paralyzed all hit the waves here.
They all require a different kind of assistance depending on their disabilities and manoeuvre their boards in different ways some standing, some on their knees, others like Glasner flat on their bellies and using their body weight to steer the boards. But every one of them emerges from the ocean beaming.
AdaptSurf, a Rio-based non-governmental organisation aims to make beaches accessible to the disabled and encourage them to practise water sports.
For the disabled to be deprived of the physical benefits of the beach and also all the socialising that goes on there is doubly isolating, says AdaptSurf co-founder Henrique Saraiva, who is also physically challenged after an accident.
Despite his badly atrophied right leg, Saraiva pulled out his old board and tried to surf again.
“It was magical. The water is the one place where I can forget about my handicap,” said Saraiva. “It’s the one place where I can feel like I’m just one of the guys, just like everybody else.”
In a bid to share that experience with others, Saraiva founded AdaptSurf with the help of two friends. And it convenes every Saturday and Sunday
Boost to self-esteem
“People who spend their whole lives in a wheelchair get on a board and manage to catch a wave and their self-esteem goes through the roof,” Saraiva said.
Now several dozen disabled people come from across this metropolis of 6 million to attend AdaptSurf, some braving hours-long bus rides to be there every weekend. The group has even had people come from as far as the capital, Brasilia, some 1,170 kilometers away.AP