Update: August 2016
160kms, 33 meals, 8 surf sessions and numerous chats along the way… what have you done in the last 11 days?
For Jade Wheatley the past 11 days have been a little unusual; he’s just one of a group of adaptive surfers that are raising funds for the Australian adaptive surf team. You can find out more at walkforwaves.com.
When we first met Jade, it was clear that his health meant everything to him. It not only gives him the energy to be the best dad possible but allows him to continue his passion, surfing. We couldn’t help but follow his story and watch with inspiration how one man can completely turn his world around after being told he’d never walk again – now he’s rising to the challenges and helping others achieve their dreams of surfing in California at the World Adaptive Surfing Championships.
We gave Jade a Go-Pro and asked him to share his trials and tribulations of the walk… check out the ideo above to see what he got up to.
Liberated by surfing: riding waves after losing both legs.
Jade Wheatley is living the lifestyle dream. When he’s not working, he spends his free time surfing (in-between the school run).
He spends hours in the water keeping fit, and recently reached the semi-finals of an international surfing competition in California. He’s more active than most men in their thirties and has surfed waves of all sizes with the best in the world.
Not bad, considering Wheatley lost both his legs following a work-related accident over 15 years ago, and spent more than two and a half years in a wheelchair.
“Surfing is liberating,” Wheatley says on the sport that became a significant part of his rehabilitation. “It’s fitness. It’s fun. It’s almost like self-medicating.”
The father of two lives for the water and is forging a new path for people with disabilities to find liberation and fitness in the ocean.
From June 20, Wheatley will compete in the inaugural Australian Adaptive Surfing Titles at Casuarina on the far north coast of NSW. In July he leads Walk for Waves, an 11-day Newcastle to Manly coastal walk. Walk for Waves is designed to raise funds to enable the Australian Adaptive Surf team to compete in the 2016 World Adaptive Surfing Championships in California.
A life-changing moment
Growing up on the East Coast of Australia, Wheatley recalls a childhood of “never sitting down”. He played Rugby League, basketball and surfed – and had wild dreams of living on an island in Indonesia and surfing all day.
Three days after his 19th birthday, life took a dramatic turn. While operating a compaction roller during a road-widening job just out of Townsville, an embankment gave way, the vehicle tipped and crushed his legs.
“My left leg lasted six days before they amputated it,” Wheatley says. Dozens of operations, and a couple of years in a wheelchair later, he told doctors he wanted the right leg off too.
"Three months after getting the second one amputated I was walking,” he says.
"I got my legs made and I stood up straight away. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to stand up. That was uplifting. I had this thing in my head that it’d be hard and I’d never do anything again.”
Wheatley begged staff at the limb centre to let him take the legs home to show his family. “I went home with two walking sticks and threw them away a couple of days later.”
Back in Newcastle (where he later married his next door neighbour) Wheatley initially started body boarding. He’d take a taxi or community transport to the beach, put his board on his wheelchair to get closer to the water, lock up the chair and then crawl on his knees to get in the surf.
“I would stay out all day, I didn’t want to have to crawl back up on the hot sand dune!” he says.
After connecting with the Disabled Surfers Association, a group that offers support in the water, Wheatley eventually made the transition to surfing. He got up on his knees one day and never looked back. “I thought, ‘this is an awesome feeling’ and so I just kept going.”
Surfing, swimming and keeping active not only helped Wheatley’s rehab, but also supported him through some of his darker days following the accident. “Being active is its own medication. It increases the endorphins. Even today when I get down, I self-medicate by getting out in the water,” he says.
“Health to me is about getting to live every day. It’s getting to wake up and live.”