Athlete of the Week: Tario earns East Coast surf title

Veronica Tario

The East Coast Adaptive Surfing Championship trophy was so heavy that when our Athlete of the Week hoisted it above her head in classic celebration style, she flipped her wheelchair backwards, landing in the sand, laughing.

Veronica Tario, known as “Roni” to her friends, was crowned the very first East Coast champion, of the adaptive surfing division, at the Atlantic Surfing Federation’s (ASF) season ending event in Sebastian Inlet, Florida.

Fellow competitor Brock Johnson was just edged out in the final seconds by Tario. “They were tough conditions,” said Johnson. “The water was rough, and the waves were big. She was able to get two big ones, and that’s what you need.”

ASF Executive Director Phil Jackson added the adaptive surf division this year after seeing success at the local level, “Roni’s good. She took some bombs outside and rode them all the way in. She was carving up the waves in tough conditions and deserved the title.”

That chair tipping trophy now sits proudly on the very first mantle when you walk into her home. “It feels great, and incredibly humbling,” said Tario. “I think we all deserved the trophy that day. That was one of the toughest surf comps that I’ve ever done.”

The waves at Sebastian Inlet on that early November Sunday were 6 to 7 foot on the faces, manageable to an experienced, standing surfer. But, Tario doesn’t ride standing up. “Four years ago, I was out at a bar and decided to go swimming. I jumped off the back deck in 18 inches of water.” Tario is a quadriplegic with spinal cord injuries to C6 & C7 vertebrae.

Tario attended a Life Rolls On event in Wrightsville Beach at the invitation of Johnson, and fell in love with the sport. “I love it because it’s a way to get out of the chair. Feeling that sense of normalcy is very freeing,” she said. “One of the biggest things, there is a lot of stress that comes along with the injury and surfing is the best stress reliever and medicine that I’ve found. It’s a great escape.”

Tario’s competitive nature gets a workout as well; she’s competed and traveled as far as California, and along the East Coast. A team of surfers work with Tario in and out of the water. Her coach, Jim Holland has seen the progress over the last few years, “She was pretty rad in the California competition, but since then she’s begun to get into even bigger waves. She’s more aggressive, she’s fine tuning her carves, and she’s started to paddle on her own. That’s been a huge game changer, in helping her to get outside.”

Tario surfs in the adaptive assist division, meaning that Holland swims out with her and helps push her into the waves while teammates Vann Horne, Daniel Woolley, Ana Mellone, and Richard Thompson assist on the inside. “I always tell her that she is the mind, I am the body, and together we are the soul that creates that surfer. It takes all of that for it to work,” says Holland.

Bringing the trophy home to Myrtle Beach has inspired Tario, “It made me feel like I’m finally a competitive athlete.” Any doubters can just look on the mantle near her front door. Gleaming back at them will be the words East Coast Champion.

-Photo by Brady Beck

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