George Gonzalez was snowboarding with his step-father in Colorado, when he suffered a life changing spinal cord injury while heading down a blue run. George, his step-father, and his friends came to a section where a bunch of small kids came out of the trees and caught him off guard. Not wanting to cause an accident, he tried to check up using his heel edge, he caught his toe-edge and flipped over, landing on his head. The impact led to a C6/7 burst fracture, causing paralysis from the neck down.
I wanted to meet people that were overcoming similar challenges.
- Following George’s tragic accident, his main recovery goal was well understood
Growing up in Florida, George spent his childhood playing in the blue-green water of the Atlantic Ocean with his family. Following his injury, it became increasingly important for George to get back into the water. “I’ve always enjoyed everything about the ocean, and I’ve worked so hard to make sure I could get back in the water.”
During his recovery George reached out to Steve Wallace at the High Fives Foundation and the duo quickly formed a friendship. “Right away, I knew George had the attitude and work ethic to achieve any goal he set, so we quickly developed a few milestones that I knew he would be able to reach. I set him up with the High Fives x Arcade Belt Goal Program after he mentioned how important it was that he be able to enjoy the ocean again.”
In September of 2018, High Fives hosted it’s 3rd annual Santa Cruz Surf Camp. George Gonzales was the first athlete to receive an invitation and he jumped at the chance to participate. His loving and ever-protective mother was invited out to witness her son’s absolute joy of being back in the water. “A significant part of our mission at High Fives, is introducing these athletes, not just to sports they used to love, but connecting them to a community of people who share that same passion, while they bond over their struggles in overcoming life-changing injuries. A big part of that community includes family.” -Roy Tuscany
From the moment George laid eyes on the deep blue waters of the Pacific, off the coast of Santa Cruz, he felt that familiar rush of excitement, the same excitement that followed him into the water as a young boy. “Once I saw everybody gathering on the beach, I knew I was going to have some fun!”
Throughout the course of the week, High Fives relies on a core group of volunteers, known as “watermen,” to ensure the safety of each athlete. These watermen work hand in hand with athletes, teaching them the proper technique for reading the water, timing sets, and adapting the sport to each individual’s physical capabilities. Jeff Robertson, lovingly referred to as “Spak” was immediately impressed by Georges enthusiasm and energy. “ As soon as he got in the water, he become a completely different person, his eyes lit up when he figured out that he could surf again, the kid really blew me away!”
After each day of surfing, all the athletes gathered around and shared stories of their personal struggles and triumphs. George’s mom looked at her son as he he smiled and cut jokes, and welled up with pride as she realized her son was able to enjoy the one thing he had been working so hard to accomplish over the past few years, surfing…