From November 30 to December 5, 2019, High Fives Foundation took eight adaptive athletes, and four watermen to Maui to connect with their families, their bodies, and the Foundation. Some of the family relationships included father-son, mother-son, brother-sister, husband-wife. What resulted was a beautiful example of OHANA and how precious life is after traumatic experiences that leave lasting injury.

Lifelines and Bloodlines

Words By: Laurel Winterbourne // Photos By: Trevor Clark & Kate Abraham // Video By: Generikal Design

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Surfing. There’s nothing like it. Being propelled by a wall of water that traveled thousands of miles across the ocean only to glide down the wave for a few short seconds and feel the rush, adrenaline, and desire to do it all over again is nothing short of magical. For the athletes of the High Fives Foundation, surfing has become the ultimate rehab for the mind, body, and soul. Wheelchairs are traded for wave skis, prone boards, and freedom. Injuries and paralysis fade away into the ocean around them and the focus becomes the waves, the stoke, and the incredible family of friends out in the water supporting, hollering, and high fiving each other with each ride into shore.

The High Fives Foundation started in 2009 by founder Roy Tuscany as a non-profit to support the recovery of athletes who have experienced traumatic life-changing injuries but has evolved into so much more. After more than 10 years of helping 266 individuals on their road to recovery from 36 states and over four million dollars given in grants, the bigger picture of the impact that the foundation has built is becoming clear – OHANA. 

They have created a family through lifelines rather than bloodlines. 

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Family comes in all different orientations and Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, extends beyond bloodlines and encompasses all those that we love. The High Fives Ohana is as tight as they come. New mom and athlete Alana Nichols, who was on the Maui surf trip, describes the connection as “going home for the holidays.” 

There is a special bond created when you get to share epic life experiences like surfing on the coast of Maui. 

You get to be around your people. The ones that understand you and what you’re going through and what you’ve gone through. It feels like our relationships continue to grow stronger. There are many underlying issues that come with life after a disability and a lot of it is mental, so having the support of the High Fives Ohana really makes you feel confident in what you’re attempting to do whether it’s surfing, skiing or mountain biking, whatever it is.

New mom and athlete Alana Nichols

Kate Abraham // Elevated Image

There’s an unspoken connection between the athletes, their families, and the greater High Fives Ohana. They are bound to one another by shared experience and offer each other support, love, and openness. 

“We just love being around each other, we can talk about anything and are there for each other,” says Lacey Dueck, wife of athlete Josh Dueck, both of whom were also on the surf trip. 

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It’s really magical watching it all unfold.

Lacey Dueck, wife of athlete Josh Dueck

The Duecks have been attending High Five’s surf camps since their daughter Nova was 18 months old. At the time, they were the only family on the trip. Nova is now six and has a three-year-old brother Hudson. Although unintentionally, the Duecks have set an example of strength and resilience and shown that despite disability, having a family is an amazing adventure filled with love and joy. While the High Fives Foundation is building a family, the athletes are creating their own. 

“Each athlete is strong because of the support around them,” says High Fives Founder and new father Roy Tuscany. “We know that when we all bond together, we will overcome. The impact of the Foundation cannot be measured statistically, but the true essence of what we do is shown through the bonds we’ve created, the smiles, the support network, and most of all the family we’ve built.” 

Kate Abraham // Elevated Image
Kate Abraham // Elevated Image

There is no doubt that Tuscany’s appreciation for life is contagious to everyone around him and that he is the centerpiece of the High Fives Ohana. His partner and fellow athlete Alana Nichols puts it best:

“Roy is stoked on life and brings such great energy wherever he goes so when he’s out in the ocean you just feel good being out there with him.” 

Surfing has changed Tuscany’s life and brought him a whole new level of stoke and he simply wants to share the joy of surfing with his High Fives Ohana. 

“There’s nothing that can replace the experience of doing it together,” Nichols says. “For someone who’s never been in the ocean and they see someone who has a disability that’s like theirs and then they see them get into the ocean, there is no question of whether or not they can do it. Even some of the more experienced surfers are going for waves that they wouldn’t have in the past. Everybody is growing and life isn’t over because you’re disabled. It can only continue to get better if you’re open to it.”

Kate Abraham // Elevated Image
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There are moments of magic that happen on these trips. As the sun fades away and deep purple and orange kiss the sea, the silhouette of a woman, a mother, an athlete gracefully glide down the line. Wave after perfect wave roll through and Nichols is the only surfer in sight. Her four-month-old baby Gunnar is in good hands onshore and all of life’s stresses are washed away. The High Fives Foundation Ohana watches from the beach, witnessing the flow and understanding the feeling and freedom that only a surfer can know. 

Closing: This is only the beginning for High Fives Athletes, their families, and growing together. This year alone, High Fives has six adaptive surf camps planned to bring more people into the healing powers of the ocean, in order to create community and bridge the gap between what can and what can’t be done. 

For media inquiries, contact Becca Lefanowicz: becca@highfivesfoundation.com

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Kate Abraham // Elevated Image