September 5, 2011

I’ve always believed that surfers had to be in the best physical shape possible to get out there on a long, thin board, stand up, and ride on the wave.  So, I was surprised to read about Taylor Saige Ross of Irvine, California, who is passionate about surfing for many reasons — one of which is that it helps her breathe.  Taylor has cystic fibrosis, and surfing makes her cough incessantly.

In Taylor’s case, the coughing is life-saving because she is finally able to cough up thick and sticky mucus that coagulates in her lungs.  There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, but surfing has made her quality of life better.  Why?  According to doctors, “inhaling saltwater mist has a powerful effect on rehydrating the lining of the lungs, which allows cystic fibrosis patients to more easily cough up bacteria-contaminated mucus.”

Then there are the other beneficial side benefits of surfing.  According to her mother, Taylor, now 10, “feels a sense of peace and calm, and it helps her get connected with her body.  It’s a place she needs to be able to go.”  In fact, Taylor speaks publicly about Cystic Fibrosis to help raise money for CF research, educating the public to understand the disease and how it affects 30,000 children and young adults.  Huntington Beach (CA), where Taylor surfs,  recently held an annual Pipeline to a Cure fundraiser.

This perky 10 year old’s short term goal is to compete in her first National Scholastic Surfing Association junior competition.  Her long term goal is to become a marine biologist.  In the meantime, she surfs once or twice a week,  and practices mixed martial arts that brought her a silver medal in her weight and age class in a recent MMA tournament.  For 4 hours every day, she has breathing therapy and takes about 20 pills.  Her lung capacity is presently at 84% normal functioning.

I have a cousin who suffered from serious asthma as a child.  Her mother told me that the only place she could breathe well was at the beach but she couldn’t explain why the sea air was her best medicine.  In fact, in our family lore, I remember a story of how my grandmother was a very sickly baby expected to die.  When she was two years old, her mother took her and her other 7 children on the long boat voyage of immigrants from Eastern Europe to America.  Her father had expected his youngest daughter would never survive the trip, but there she was when the boat docked – healthier than she had ever been.  The sea had somehow cured her too.

The sea has always been an emotionally restorative part of my life too.  I was born by the sea, and found various places in the world to live within easy reach of a sea.  Now, living in my little patch of paradise in southern California, I often go to the sea at Laguna Beach.  I love the anticipation of my first sight of the ocean, etched in shades of gray or blue as it meets the sky.  I’ve spent hours at my favorite view over the ocean, happily entertaining myself with watching the variety of people who also come to see the sea, the wild sea lions on the rocks, the scuba divers practicing, the dolphins occasionally passing by, the gulls, cormorants, and pelicans.

Close to sunset, with my binoculars, I distort the gleam of the sun on the ocean into thousands of moving cell-like creatures rejoicing in a dance over the water.  Toward sunset, the shining, shimmering path the sun makes across the water and all the way to the cliff where I’m standing connects me to the sea and the sun.  Soon, the sun throws out flames of red and yellow across the blue sky as it sinks gracefully behind Catalina Island.  I feel at home.

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