The real heroes behind Jaiden’s journey…
The real heroes behind Jaiden’s journey…
I get a lot of praise for the progress Jaiden has made over the years. But, in reality, this journey all started thanks to a group of total strangers who gave me a sliver of hope 9 years ago. When we first took off travelling I had this idealistic idea inside my head what travel would look like. I envisaged we’d spend days by the beach playing together and I’d rekindle my love affair with the ocean. After just a few short days into our travelling journey those hopes were dashed when I was faced with the reality that Jaiden was fearful of the ocean, so much so that I could not even get him out of the car on our first trip to the beach. The sounds of crashing waves and the overwhelming nature of such a vast expanse of water was more than 4 year old Jaiden could handle. Autism and noise sensitivity are pretty common, and white noise was a thing Jaiden could not stand.
This was a pretty hard thing to accept early on as I’d just quit my job and sold every possession I’d owned in order to travel and the reality of what our adventure may look like started to sink in. The problem was, I am a bit of a stubborn individual so I proceeded to spend the next couple of months doing everything I could to get Jaiden onto the beach. Day after day we’d ride to the beach and look at the waves in an attempt to desensitize Jaiden to the noise. Eventually we managed to get onto the beach by carrying him to a small river inlet that was far enough away from the waves for him to dip his toes in the water. Meanwhile, I could stare at the waves and ocean off in the distance dreaming of the day we’d be in the ocean together.
Jaiden had made some good progress so I made the decision to take the caravan and plonk at a beachfront campsite for some serious desensitization. Rather selfishly, I was not yet ready to give up on my idealistic beach life so I spent another 5 weeks doing everything I could to get Jaiden more comfortable with the ocean. Progress was slow, and at times frustrating as I discovered that if I pushed Jaiden too hard, he would lose trust in me and this made him less willing to get onto the beach the next day. Even my attempts to get in the water for a swim would see Jaiden screaming in fear as he saw his dad enter this seemingly endless expanse of water that was in his eyes, ready to swallow his dad whole. The fear on his face was real, but I hoped that if I showed him I was having fun he would be more open to venturing to the waters edge with me, but that was not the case.
One day I got chatting to a guy at the campsite and was explaining our travelling and ocean journey, which by now saw Jaiden on the beach in socks to avoid the sensory overload of the sand, hands on his ears to block the noise. But despite this, he was getting close enough to the water to run away from the waves as they approached. I’d managed to get him into a small rock pool the day beforehand which was the closest he’d come to getting in the ocean and was a huge step forward. The guy explained that they were in town for a surfing competition which was raising funds for a non-for-profit organisation Disabled Surfers Association NSW Far North Coast that helped disabled surfers get into the ocean and on a surfboard. He kindly invited us down to the open day for Jaiden to go surfing with the assistance of their team of volunteers. He wasn’t yet comfortable with strangers, nor was he keen on getting in the ocean, so I thanked him for the offer and said maybe we would come down for a look. To say I had low expectations was a massive understatement.
Curious to see what it was all about, and slightly excited at the prospect of Jaiden getting into the ocean we attended the Go Surfing day. I signed Jaiden up and managed to coax him onto the beach to watch the other participants surf, but he was adamant he was not getting into the ocean. For the next couple of hours I tried to convince him to give it a try, but to no avail. Eventually a couple of the volunteers managed to talk Jaiden into giving it a try and much to my amazement I watched Jaiden walk into the ocean, hand in hand, with two total strangers. Just a few short minutes later Jaiden was standing on a surfboard and riding a wave into shore to the cheers of the very patient volunteers who had persevered to get him out there. After the event ended we climbed in the car the gravity of what he had just achieved hit me as I broke down into tears and balled uncontrollably, my boy was in the ocean. This day, and this day alone is what made me realise that I had made the right decision to travel with Jaiden. It gave me the confidence that I could help him overcome the challenges he faced one by one, and to perhaps find joy doing things he once refused to try.
Fastforward 9 years and that little boy is now a teenager. A teenager who happily strolls onto the beach and launches himself into the ocean like that little boy, who was once so fearful of the ocean, never even existed. It’s continued to be a slow process over the years but it’s meant we can visit the beach, have a swim and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures, one that means a lot to me. Jaiden had showed some interest in learning to surf so I bought him a cheap surfboard a week ago to get out there and give it a try. As fate would have it, yesterday was DSA’s annual meet at Minnie water, just down the road from where we’re currently staying, and the very same place Jaiden entered the ocean for the first time all those years ago. We were not going to miss this for the world.
We arrived and saw many familiar faces who recalled that fateful day nearly a decade ago, and unlike our first DSA event Jaiden was as keen as mustard to get into the ocean and do some surfing. He confidently walked out into the surf with one of the volunteers and a few minutes later was riding his first wave in, smiling from ear to ear, once again to the cheers of the volunteers who had given up their weekend to help adults and kids with various disabilities get out there surfing. Standing there, GoPro in hand like the token proud dad, the tears streamed down my face watching him catch wave after wave, getting pushed out further and further each time by a volunteer who recognised that Jaiden was ready to adventure beyond the white water. Despite wiping out several times, he confidently got back up, grabbed the board and went back out for another attempt. Gone was the little boy who was once so fearful of the ocean, replaced by a confident young man ready to push his limits, just to experience that exhilarating feeling of floating on water that surfing gives.
To say he was happy with himself would be the understatement of the century. During the presentation Jaiden was awarded the “Wave of the day” and given a trophy for his efforts. Jaiden awkwardly stood there after being handed his trophy at which point Lenno said “You seem like you want to make a speech?” Jaiden replied “Yeah, I’m pretty happy with myself” to the cheers and applause of the crowd gathered around. I really wanted to get up there and say a few words to thank the entire team, but with tears already running down my face, I knew I would not get a word out before breaking down completely.
Upon hearing Jaiden had just got a surfboard, the DSA crew donated him some special DSA Mrs Palmers Wax wax for his board, rash vests, and a DSA sticker which Jaiden lovingly arranged on his bedside table before going to sleep last night. Not only that, his assortment of goodies was joined by a beanie he was given from the kind folks over at Thrills who donate goodies throughout the year for participants to have free of charge. A beanie may seem like a small thing, but for a kid who has spent the past decade travelling and living very simply with minimal possessions it’s a big deal to be given something new. Not only that, the owner himself was out there donating his time to make this weekend possible which speaks volumes.
A simple thank you does not seem enough to express the gratitude I have for the entire crew at DSA who make these events happen, not to mention the sponsors, and donations from people who keep this amazing organisation doing what they do best, using the ocean to bring joy to the hearts of people all over the country. Thank you for everything you do, and for being such a pivotal part in our journey with the ocean, but also for giving me the confidence to continue helping Jaiden overcome his fears, one by one.