The Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, renowned for its expertise in orthopedics, rheumatology and the treatment of conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to spina bifida, also helps young athletes recovering from sports injuries.
On Monday, the hospital treated young patients and hopeful future athletes with various musculoskeletal conditions to a day of surfing in Long Beach. The children and teens learned the art of riding the waves from world-class surfers and Long Beach residents Will and Cliff Skudin and their specially trained staff at Skudin Surf.
The trip was sponsored by the Adaptive Sports Academy at the hospital’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion. The academy organizes local, regional and national adaptive programs for kids and teens with a range of disabilities, to help them learn new skills, develop new interests, reinforce therapy goals and socialize with other patients.
Adaptive sports are competitive or recreational sports for people with differing abilities. Rules or equipment are sometimes modified to meet participants’ needs — for example, the new enhanced surfboard with a built-in seat that Skudin Surf showcased last month.
The academy allows young patients with movement-impacting conditions to dive into athletic activities once believed to be beyond their reach, Jessica Heyer, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, said.
“A lot of times, these kids and their families would never be able to participate in the activities,” Heyer said, “so we get them out there, and they learn that they could do something if they just had the right adaptive equipment.”
The trips and recreational experiences are designed to boost the participants’ self-confidence, foster independence, increase their physical activity and improve their mobility. The outings are provided at no cost, made possible by contributions from donors.
The surfing trip isn’t the only adaptive activity the hospital offers its patients. It encourages them to take part in any activities that interest them.
“We host a multitude of events that could be appropriate for different kids,” Heyer explained. “We do surfing, we do downhill skiing outdoors and indoors, and we did a water-skiing event a couple weeks ago. We do rock climbing, horseback riding, basketball with the Brooklyn Nets, ballet with one of the companies in New York. We do a lot of different things that kids can participate in.”
Some parents of first-time participants have concerns about their kids trying such activities — especially surfing — but those fears are quickly calmed. That’s because the hospital partners with groups like Surf for All, which have the expertise to ensure the safety of every child they teach.
Beyond recreation, the programs often offer therapeutic benefits that can complement participants’ medical treatment. “A lot of these kids may have had surgeries on their extremities, and they might be hesitant to walk, or they might have an inability to walk, but they can certainly get into the water and spin on a surfboard, or they can get onto a horse and help their posture,” Heyer said. “These are different ways that we can take their therapy that they’re using with a physical therapist and sort of translate it to other activities.”
Linda McLoughlin and her daughter, Juliana, eagerly looks forward to the surfing trip. Juliana, who has cerebral palsy, finds joy in the activity despite her condition.
“This is probably our fourth or fifth year,” her mother said. “This is the one day we make sure that we come to every year because it is absolutely the greatest day of the summer.”
To families like the McLoughlins, the annual event is more than just surfing. It’s an opportunity to connect with the community and celebrate their children’s strengths, and it brings them happiness and hope.
“The best part of the day is seeing the smile on all the children’s faces, and the pure joy they have being able to surf,” Linda McLoughlin said.