Heroes in the water, this picture is getting framed

tylerWatkinsRoaming Working with Grand Strand Sports Report, I take a lot of pictures. From basketball games, to soccer, to swimming, to running, to surfing, you get the idea. I would estimate that in a year, I take nearly 4000 pictures. Of course, only a very few get used. The rest go in a folder in case we need them later.

Most of these pictures look nearly identical; an athlete dribbling the ball down the court, or swinging at a pitch.  Occasionally, one picture stands out, as happened this weekend. Here’s the story.

The Anderson Estep, Cherry Grove Pier Surfing Championship was held Saturday in North Myrtle Beach. As a surfer, and a member of the Cherry Grove Pier Surfing Club, I spent my day on the beach taking photos, helping wherever I could, and talking surf with new and old friends. I was pulling a double duty by also taking photos of surfers that I knew we’d end up featuring here at some point this summer.

I selected a few of the heats that I really wanted to focus on, and one of them was the adaptive surf division. This is a division for those surfers that use specially adapted surfboards to ride the waves. Each participant is different. Some have spinal cord injuries, some have brain injuries or issues, and some have permanent limb injuries. Generally, these surfers require a rider to ride on the board with them. It’s a really neat process that gets these athletes back in the water.

Four surfers were entered in the division set to kick off around 2pm. Two of the surfers arrived early and waited for their heat, playing in the sand and water and generally sweating in the sun. One of the surfers, Terrel Rawson was running late. The heat would run with or without him, and it was time.

The two other surfers began getting ready as several eyes focused on the sand dunes hoping that Rawson would show. In true rock star Terrel-Racingfashion, Rawson comes rolling over the dunes at a rapid speed, headed toward the water. He was being pushed in a specially designed beach chair by Luke Sharp, his riding partner. The contest was on.

Rawson is a special young man. We featured him in a Valentine’s Day story that you can read HERE. But, the basics are that he’s a 14 year old surfer from Surfside Beach and attends Forestbrook Middle School.  Wheelchair bound, Rawson was born with Spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and dislocated hips. His adoptive mothers don’t see this as any type of restriction and instead encourage him to pursue his passions.

Terrel-ridingThe event began as the participants were each guided into the water on their boards. Spotters filled the water to catch the surfers if they should fall off the board, and tourists and other surfers lined the edge of the water to watch, and wipe the occasional tear rolling down their own cheek.

In the 30 minute heat, each surfer caught several waves that produced smiles as big as any you’ve ever seen. These athletes love to get into the water and ride the waves. As Rawson told me back in February, “I feel free.”

The final horn sounded and Rawson caught his last wave in. And, that’s when it happened. That’s when the picture that I will forever cherish took place. I’ll tell you why it’s so special after you take a look at the shot. Here it is.

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You may see the grin of Terrel and think how incredible this picture is. And, I’m sure it is for his family. But that isn’t what makes this picture special for me. In fact, I have 20+ pictures of Terrel on a surfboard smiling and laughing.

Nope, this picture is amazing because of the man standing behind Terrel, his riding partner for the day, Luke Sharp. And, it’s what you don’t know about this picture that makes it so fantastic.

As Luke and Terrel rode their last wave in, I sauntered over with my camera just as Erin Sharp, Luke’s wife arrived to help move Terrel from the board to his beach wheelchair. Erin bent down to speak to Terrel, and I bent down to get a good angle on the shot. Erin looked up at me and I flashed the shaka sign, hoping that she would do the same. It would make a great picture, I thought. The shaka sign is the pinky and thumb extended. Erin is doing it correctly in the picture.

Erin looked at Terrel and tried to get him to do the sign, but for some reason, he struggled with it. Instead, Terrel made the time tested Rock & Roll sign. You know the one, with your pinky and pointer finger extended.

Here’s where it gets good. Luke Sharp initially flashed the shaka as he normally does, but noticed Terrel struggling. You could see Luke’s brain kicking into high gear as he changed his hand to match Terrel’s hand, so that they were both flashing the Rock & Roll sign. I pushed the button, and one of my favorite images ever was born.

It may seem like a small thing for Luke to match Terrel’s hand sign. But, it says so much about this man Luke Sharp.

You see, there are millions of people in this world who see rock stars, or professional athletes as their heroes. And, although I’ve never asked him, I’ve spent enough time with Luke to know that his heroes are folks like Terrel Rawson. Those who show up, and perform despite the incredible difficulty in doing so; those who don’t give up. Luke has a special place in his heart for those type of people, and to me, it shows in that one simple, matched hand gesture.

This one picture will always be one of my personal favorites because it shows a kid in his happiest moment, doing something he loves. It shows a man that gives his heart to help others and make them feel normal, accepted, and welcomed, and there is nothing fake about his attempts. And, it shows a woman who supports her husband whole-heartedly and does everything she can to help him achieve his goal of helping others. This picture, to me, is amazing.

And, while Luke Sharp may view folks like Terrel as heroes. To me, the heroes of this world are folks like Luke Sharp.

Now, I’m off to the printers to see if I can get this photo framed.  I’ll be presenting it as a gift to the Sharp family as a token of thanks for the gift they’ve given me and so many others.

Oh, and by the way, Terrel Rawson won 1st place in his division. He’s added another trophy to his growing collection.

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