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Surfing To Heal

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Aired 3/9/10

Service men and women return to San Diego following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from both physical and emotional injuries. The Naval Medical Center San Diego has developed an unusual program, a surf clinic, to help injured vets heal. Exercise physiologist Betty Michalewicz, who runs the program, says that surfing has helped program participants with pain management in ways that she can't quite explain.

Joe Jackson was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy.  He suffered a brain injury and says when he's surfing, " it feels like I’m normal again."  He mentors servicemembers who participate in the Naval Medical Center San Diego's surf clinic.
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Above: Joe Jackson was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy. He suffered a brain injury and says when he's surfing, " it feels like I’m normal again." He mentors servicemembers who participate in the Naval Medical Center San Diego's surf clinic.

Corporal Elmer Ugarte is in the U.S. Marine Corps.  In 2007, he was shot in the chest by a sniper in Iraq.  He said, being shot by someone he couldn't see caused him to become afraid of the unknown. But, he said "being on a board and being demolished by waves, it’s something I can’t control but for some reason it gave me peace."
Enlarge this image

Above: Corporal Elmer Ugarte is in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2007, he was shot in the chest by a sniper in Iraq. He said, being shot by someone he couldn't see caused him to become afraid of the unknown. But, he said "being on a board and being demolished by waves, it’s something I can’t control but for some reason it gave me peace."

To inquire about volunteering with the surf clinic contact the San Diego Armed Services YMCA (619) 532-8156

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. There are a lot of people in San Diego who surf to experience the healing power of nature. But there are some who need that power a lot more than others. A unique surfing therapy here in San Diego is helping in the rehabilitation of veterans, some who have lost limbs, some who have suffered other wounds including traumatic brain injuries. The surf rehab developed by chance but has taken off, and become an important part of therapy for veterans here in San Diego. I’d like to welcome my guests. Betty Michalewicz Kragh, exercise psychologist – physiologist, that is, for Navy Medical Center. And, Betty, welcome to These Days.

BETTY MICHALEWICZ KRAGH (Exercise Physiologist, Navy Medical Center): Thank you, and thank you for having me here.

CAVANAUGH: Joe Jackson is a retired Navy Hospital corpsman. Joe, welcome to These Days.

JOE JACKSON (Former Corpsman, U.S. Navy): Thank you for inviting us.

CAVANAUGH: And Elmer Ugarte is a Marine Staff Sergeant – Elmer.

ELMER UGARTE (Corporal, USMC): Corporal.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I’m sorry. Corporal. A Marine Staff Corporal (sic). Good morning, and thank you for being here.

UGARTE: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Jacque Moore is a physical therapist with Navy Medical Center, and we’ll maybe be speaking with her a little bit later. Betty, tell me, who is Walter Fanene?

KRAGH: Wally Fanene. Wally Fanene is a soldier who I was privileged to meet almost three years ago. He’s an amazing, brave young man who lost his arm and his leg in Afghanistan and who was sent to rehabilitate in the Navy Medical Center San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: And did – how did this therapy develop with – is it Walter, are you saying? Or is it Wally?

KRAGH: Wally.

CAVANAUGH: Wally.

KRAGH: Wallen.

CAVANAUGH: How did this therapy develop, this surf therapy? Was it his idea?

KRAGH: Yes. That was a Wallefin (sp) idea. He came and he was sent to work with me. I’m the exercise physiologist and I do fitness therapy, that’s how I call it. And I always ask the warriors that I work with, the soldiers, Marines and Navy, what is it that they would like to do? And Wally answer right away that he wish he knew he could go surfing again. And I said, sure, you can, having no idea what exactly I was going to do. But I knew we will, and he did it.

CAVANAUGH: And this was just all – this was really just heart and soul to start out with because you didn’t really have any idea whether or not someone who was minus a leg and minus part of an arm could ever surf again, did you?

KRAGH: I knew that he could surf again. I knew we will have to figure out exactly how and what and what will we have to change but I knew he will be able to surf again. These wonderful young guys are warriors and they fight whatever they need to fight. And they fight in the battle zone when they need to and they fight through the rehabilitation. They make things happen. I knew he can surf.

CAVANAUGH: Now tell me, the surf clinic now that developed from this initial conversation you had with Wally, who is it for and how does it run?

KRAGH: The surf clinic started as Wally thing, he started – he wanted to go surfing. He and his – another amputee, a U.S. Coast Guard patient that we had, they start going surfing. Three years later, the surf clinic is going on strong. We are out there every Thursday. The surf clinic is supported by the Del Mar Lifeguards who have been wonderful in finding a way to support this, to make it safe, to make it easy and to let the wounded warriors find their way to surfing in a way that build their confidence in it.

CAVANAUGH: And what kind of wounded warriors do you have in the program now? What kinds of injuries do the veterans have who are taking this surf rehab?

KRAGH: We take care of – We, in the Navy Medical Center and in the Health & Wellness Department, we take care of the wounded, injured, and ill service members. We have wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, we have injured service member who got injured in different places, and we have ill service member who might have find out they have cancer, are healing from cancer and other diseases.

CAVANAUGH: And just about how many people are in the program now?

KRAGH: We – I would say we have about 15 to 20 patients, people coming to the clinic every week now. We – The clinic develop really interesting. There’s a beautiful mentoring going out there. As I state, we started it really small and now there’s Joe – Joe Jackson, here, for example, who comes to the clinic every Thursday. He’s there to help the others and that’s – they were – the soldiers – the service member are mentoring each other now and they have this wonderful camaraderie going on there. Well, they made friends that sometime they knew from three years ago from the battlefield and they happened – they find them out there on the beach. And they take them through – they’re surfing. We sometime have people that never went in the water before.

CAVANAUGH: Ah…

KRAGH: Sometime we have people that never – just never surfed before and they are being mentored by their peers and it’s wonderful, wonderful to see. So the guys go out there, they fight the waves out. Sometime the conditions—it’s ocean, you know, it’s not a pool, there’s no Hollywood setting…

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

KRAGH: …so sometime the conditions are really rough—they fight the condition, go out, finally make it over to the break zone and they sit there and talk and they talk about so many different issues that are relevant to their rehabilitation and then occasionally a wave comes, somebody leave the conversations, come back again, pick it up from wherever they left. And it’s just wonderful to see.

CAVANAUGH: I’m going to be speaking in just a minute with the participants in this program, Joe and Elmer, but before that, Jacque Moore is on the line. She’s physical therapist at the Navy Medical Center. And, Jacque, I wonder, what’s the process for getting veterans into the program? What do they have to do before they actually get in the ocean and surf?

JACQUE MOORE (Physical Therapist, Navy Medical Center): Good morning, everyone, first of all. We work very closely with Betty and the whole Health & Wellness program. And if there’s a patient who expressed interest to us or to our recreation therapist, Marla Knox, who would like to surf or even just get in the ocean or even kayak as well, which is another thing that’s offered in the ocean, we pass it along to Betty and we just – we try to get them involved as soon as possible once they are medically cleared because they do need that medical clearance to make sure that it’s safe for them to get in the water—they have no open wounds or, you know, anything that would preclude them from participating.

CAVANAUGH: Sure. Jacque, do you – do people ask to be part of this therapy or…

MOORE: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: …do you – Oh, it’s really popular then.

MOORE: It is, it is. You know, like Betty said, that the mentoring that goes on that has stemmed from the surf program alone is phenomenal. And, you know, these patients hear about it. They all rehab in our clinic so it’s a very, you know, small community and they all get to know each other so they all talk about things that they do and, you know, it takes one patient to talk about how wonderful the program is—or staff, like we do—and the patients are hooked.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I’m – wonder, Betty, as you said, not all the participants here know how to surf to begin with. In fact, you said some of them aren’t even really familiar with the water. Isn’t this sort of like a frightening experience? Do you find some – I’m seeing our guests shaking heads, no, no, no, no, no. Do you find that anybody really is kind of hesitant to do this at first, though, Betty?

KRAGH: We might have some that are but this encouragement that they have from their peers will do the job. We do make sure that they’re water safe initially in the pool. And the ones that are afraid, sometimes overcoming that fear is a big thing for them. Just like Jacque was saying, we – it started as a surf clinic. Right now, there’s quite – there’s occasionally patients, service members that are there and don’t even want to surf. They want a day out from being in the hospital, going to their appointment. They end up going out there and some of them are kayaking. We have a wonderful kayaking team, team with a runner that works with us there twice – every second week. Some of them boogie board, some of them will swim. Others are going to go and they walk on the beach. We have Nico Marcolongo from Operation Rebound, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and he comes with his service dog and walk with some of the patients that actually just want to walk on the beach. So it’s a very good timeout from focusing on all the things that are wrong and need to be fixed in you. It’s a very – it’s a big time – it’s a timeout to look at the big picture, a beautiful San Diego, beautiful ocean and enjoy it.

CAVANAUGH: I can imagine that. I’m speaking with Betty Michalewicz Kragh, and she is exercise physiologist for the Navy Medical Center, and also the head of the surf rehab program, which is what we’re talking about here today. We have Jacque Moore on the line. She’s physical therapist for the Navy Medical Center. But in our studio, two people who are taking part in surf rehab, Joe Jackson and Elmer Ugarte. Let me start with you, Joe. You’ve been sitting there like champing at the bit, you – you’re shaking your head, nodding. I want to hear your story. What brought you to this surf rehab?

JACKSON: What brought me to surf rehab? Basically, that would be Betty saying, hey, I heard you surf. You need to come out here.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

JACKSON: And then showed up a couple times and she’s like, you need to show up more. You need to show up more. You need to show up more. And that just developed into me just helping these guys out. I mean, I started – For example, I started surfing at 16. I started competitively swimming, playing water polo in 5th grade, so the water is not scary to me. I’m comfortable there.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JACKSON: And just being out there gets me away from everything. And then it slowly turned into just paddling out with guys.

CAVANAUGH: Now how has it helped in your healing? What was the nature of your injury and how has this helped you overcome it?

JACKSON: I have problems mostly nowadays from PTSD. I do have a brain injury but it’s not as – affecting me as much. With that, PTSD, you get the depression and not wanting to do anything, wanting just to be alone. And then out here in surfing gets me out into people, around people. The biggest thing is, is it feels like I’m normal again. And I didn’t notice that until actually I watched a very good movie about surfing in Vietnam and one of the guys was like, you know, it’s the only way you could actually be normal in today’s society. Because that’s a big thing for me, I don’t feel like anyone else. I’m not normal like anyone else anymore. I’m okay with that now but at first that was a problem.

CAVANAUGH: And when you get out in the water, it’s a different universe?

JACKSON: Yes. I’m not thinking about Iraq. I’m not thinking about my migraine. I’m not down on myself. I am completely, a hundred percent focused in to the wave. And for a guy with attention problems, that’s a pretty big thing and it’s – it’s just so naturally. You just focus on the waves and you’re just enjoying the time out there.

CAVANAUGH: And, Elmer, I want to hear your story. I want to hear what brought you to the surf rehab. Did you surf before like Joe?

UGARTE: No. I never surfed a day in my life before I met Joe and Wally and then met Bet – I mean, I knew Betty but I didn’t really know Betty was involved in the surf program. She told me about it, Wally told me about it, Joe told me about it, a couple other people told me about it, and I was like, I’m from San Diego. I got lucky when I got hit. I take my goods with my bads. I ended up in San Diego. I’m like, hey, why not? Let’s try surfing. And I was recovering still. We went out surfing. I got demolished by the waves. But then it was fun, you know? And I hadn’t had fun in a long time.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

UGARTE: It was a big deal for me to have fun again, to smile again, to be out with friends again. It was a – it’s a kind of a big deal from what had happened to me, to be at the level I was at when I was out in the water.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about what had happened to you, Elmer.

UGARTE: Well, in 2007, I got shot in the chest by a sniper in Iraq. So to me, that – there was – it’s a lot of damage that happened but the gist, the main thing that was keeping me away from everything is like the fear of the unknown. I got shot by a ghost. I didn’t see the guy. I mean, the guy was hiding out. I didn’t know. I mean, so pretty much I was scared of the dark. I was scared of anything that I didn’t know and I couldn’t control. That was my fear. And being on a board and being demolished by waves, it’s something I can’t control but for some reason it gave me peace. You know, I would go and I would paddle out, I’d get rolled over by a couple waves but then I’d pass the break. Soon as I’d pass the break, Joe’d be there laughing, saying it took you forever to get out here. Wally’d just be Wally, you know, and there was a couple other guys out there just having fun, and then we started surfing. I mean, started catching some waves. I upgraded from the inside, from the white wash and moved out to the break and it was fun. It was a blast. I mean – and, to me, it was a huge deal to be able to smile again, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

UGARTE: I mean, I was angry at the world, I was angry that I couldn’t – I couldn’t sleep at night without a light on. I was angry that I couldn’t go for a run, like I used to love, in the dark because I was scared of it and I was scared that – and I would hate the fact that I can’t go places where there’s big crowds because I’m always worried about someone out to get me. So this surf program pretty much was a jump – was a start to everything I’ve accomplished now. So – And I’ve accomplished a lot.

CAVANAUGH: Elmer, thank you so much. Thanks for telling us that. It’s really – That’s really a very powerful story. I want to open up the phone lines to anybody who has questions about the surf rehab program. Perhaps if you’re a veteran wondering what it might be able to do for you, 1-888-895-5727. And I also want to welcome a really special guest on the line, Wally Fanene, the man who basically got this whole program going because he wanted to surf again, is joining us. Wally, welcome to These Days.

WALLY FANENE (Combat Veteran/Surfer): Hello. Good morning. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: We’re doing great and we’ve been batting your name around. Tell us – We heard a little bit about your telling Betty that you wanted to surf again. Tell us how that came about.

FANENE: Betty got me in the swimming pool for exercise as part of the rehabilitation process. And we were spending so much time in the water that I started to wonder whether or not I could surf again. So I asked her, I brought up surfing to her and she brought the surfboard down to the pool and she had me paddling the lengths of the pool at first. And then we started going ocean swimming, and then that turned into surfing and that’s just how everything got started.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Wally, we mentioned that you are a double amputee and I’m wondering how far along you’ve gotten with the surfing. Is it something that you can still enjoy or is it still a challenge that you want to get better at?

FANENE: That’s something that I enjoy immensely.

CAVANAUGH: And I saw an ABC Person of the Week kind – video of you and Betty and at that time, I think you were just starting out. How has this rehab developed for you along the years as the years go by?

FANENE: The rehab, what the rehab did for me was made me realize that I’m still able to do things that I love to do and surfing was a big part of my life and by Betty taking me out into the ocean and us surfing, it’s just – it took off from there. I mean, I’m not only surfing but I’m doing more things like snowboarding, riding bikes, jujitsu, and I don’t think any of this would’ve been possible unless Betty was there for me going swimming and taking part in the ocean, going surfing with me, so it’s been a pretty big part.

CAVANAUGH: And what is it like mentoring other veterans on your surfboard?

FANENE: Awesome because it’s not only – it’s not only surfing out there, it’s just – it’s being able to do things that you weren’t sure that you were able to do. So, I mean, if I can help somebody else see that, then I – I feel great, okay.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for calling in and being with us, Wally. Thanks.

FANENE: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

FANENE: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break and when we continue, we’ll continue talking about surf rehab and taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking about surf rehab, that is – has been developed here kind of by chance, has taken off, and a lot of returning veterans are a part of it. Betty Michalewicz Kragh is the exercise physiologist for Navy Medical Center and she’s basically one of the founders of the surf rehab. Joe Jackson is a retired Navy Hospital Corpsman, and Elmer Ugarte is a Marine Staff Corporal (sic) and they’re taking part in – Am I wrong again?

UGARTE: Yeah, it’s just – it’s just a corporal.

CAVANAUGH: I’m sorry. Yeah.

JACKSON: And I must thank you for calling me a corpsman and not a (phonetically) corpseman. It’s like – I appreciate that. So do all the other corpsmen in the Navy.

CAVANAUGH: All right, I’m glad I satisfied someone. Jacque Moore’s still on the line with us. She’s physical therapist at the Navy Medical Center. And we also have on the line with us a lifeguard from the City of Del Mar. He’s Jon Edelbrock, and Jon, welcome to These Days.

JON EDELBROCK (Lifeguard, City of Del Mar): Thanks for having us and including us in the conversation.

CAVANAUGH: Well, how did the Del Mar Lifeguards support the surf clinic?

EDELBROCK: Well, you know, our support’s evolved over time. Initially we played, you know, a much, much broader role. You know, currently our role is just helping provide a safe place for them to meet and provide water safety. Probably about three or four times – three out of the four times that they come out down here a month, we will actually help them with the surfing in water and anything else we can provide.

CAVANAUGH: So what kind of training do you give new surfers in the program?

EDELBROCK: New surfers in the program, Betty’s mostly responsible for that, however, we, you know, Wally, you know, that brings back good memories from a few years ago when it got going. We would actually get in the water with them, you know, help them with their swimming, paddling and just the basics of surfing and the surfing culture down here.

CAVANAUGH: What is it like, Jon, watching this group learning to surf?

EDELBROCK: It’s amazing, you know, definitely watching the smiles that come on the faces down here is a great thing. You know, the – as the program’s grown, we’ve seen a lot of new faces and you can definitely see that emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically, the growth that takes place, you know, via this program.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Jon, in addition to being a lifeguard, you are a longtime surfer. Why is it that you think surfing is so therapeutic?

EDELBROCK: Oh, my goodness, that’s a broad question. You know, I think everyone just needs a release in life from the stresses that go on in our society. For me, it’s great, it provides great physical health and strength to me and my body but helps me just remove from my day to day life of caring for children and dealing with the stresses of the workplace, and I think everyone needs that, be it, you know, a different activity that people choose but for people like myself and as these people are discovering, the ocean is a therapeutic place and a great place to just come and relax and be with friends and have a good time.

CAVANAUGH: And so, Jon, you going to be out there Thursday morning again?

EDELBROCK: Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be at work Thursday morning. Hey, and we’ll be down here so – and just supporting the program in whichever way we can.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I’ve been speaking with Jon Edelbrock. He’s a Lifeguard Sergeant for the City of Del Mar. And, you know, Jacque, I wanted to ask you before we go on much – we start taking calls because there are a lot of people who want to join the conversation. What kind of actual physical benefits do veterans get, injured vets get from surfing?

MOORE: Oh, they’re immeasurable and Elmer and Joe could probably talk about it, the physical and the mental like they’ve already discussed.

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

MOORE: But, you know, it’s – where do I begin, really?

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m wondering how the specific exercise of surfing can actually help some of the injuries.

MOORE: Sure. Just getting out there and fighting the waves, as Betty says sometimes happens, gives you a great conditioning workout. You know, just the act of swimming is good conditioning as well. Strengthening, you know. You’re fighting against these rough waves coming in so you’re definitely giving your muscles a good workout. And then balance, for a lot of our patients with amputations, you know, balance can still be an issue even after a while, so having the waves hit them from all different directions and, you know, forcing them to stay as upright as possible is also very beneficial.

CAVANAUGH: I want to start taking some phone calls. Jerry is on the line in North County. Good morning, Jerry. Welcome to These Days.

JERRY (Caller, North County): Hello?

CAVANAUGH: Hi, Jerry.

JERRY: Hi, yes, good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

JERRY: I’m retired essentially but I come from a military family and I would like to find out if there’s a way that some volunteer guys or gals could come down and support these warriors and, you know, maybe for those that wanted to walk on the beach or maybe some that need help carrying surfboards or whatever it might be, if there’s a way that we could volunteer our time and help give back to them some?

CAVANAUGH: Jerry, I’m going to ask the question. Betty, is there a way for people to volunteer?

KRAGH: Absolutely. We do have – right now we have a few volunteers that come and help us out on Thursdays. Absolutely, yes.

CAVANAUGH: So it’s a really sort of spur of the moment thing. People just show up?

KRAGH: No.

CAVANAUGH: No, okay. How do you go about that?

KRAGH: They need to go through the Navy Medical Center procedure and become a Armed Services YMCA Volunteer.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And so they would contact the Navy Medical Center?

KRAGH: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

KRAGH: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And if there’s anything else we need to know about that, we will include it on our website so anybody who wants to volunteer, you can go to KPBS.org/thesedays later this afternoon and we’ll have information there on how you can make that transition and contact the right people. Betty, can you describe some of the things that you’ve done to enable some of the injured vets to surf?

KRAGH: I do not enable them anything. Then they enable themselves. It turn out to – it was an interesting ride because when we initially started with Wally, we really didn’t know how complicated it is going to be and we thought that we will need to do all sorts of adaptations. It turned out to be as simple as taking a board and going and just making it happen with, of course, the mentoring support of the peers. So our population in the Navy Medical Center is very specific. We have traumatic brain injury, we have PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, we have a lot of amputations. Generally speaking we deal with young, healthy men that happen to get injured while protecting our country. They simply go out and figure for themselves the way that they need – the way that they can do it. And we are there supporting whatever need to be done. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Joe, seeing that you’re – you have this broad experience with surfing, what kind of tips do you give new guys to the program?

JACKSON: Usually, I tell them they can’t do it. The reason why I say that…

UGARTE: It works. That really works. That works.

JACKSON: …is my experience – most of my experience as being a corpsman was with the Marine Corps. And that whole telling them they can’t do it, especially to a Marine, it’s going to motivate them more. If I give them a little advice, usually I tell them to follow me when we’re going out and just keep on paddling because, honestly, a lot of people get tired, they stop paddling, like last Thursday.

UGARTE: It wasn’t my fault.

JACKSON: And they don’t make it all the way out.

UGARTE: I was getting demolished.

JACKSON: But the biggest thing I honestly have to say is I don’t care if you make it all the way out, I don’t care if you make it to waist deep, are you having fun? And that’s the biggest thing about surfing. If they’re out there smiling, having fun, I am honestly happy. I’m not going to care about anything else. If they’re out there having fun, that’s the number one thing and that’s what I usually try to express to people. As long as you’re having fun, I am happy and let’s just do this.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great. Betty, you wanted to add?

KRAGH: I wanted to add actually on the physical benefits, Joe and I were looking at each other. As I said, a lot of our population suffer from PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. A lot of time it have to do with, for example, sleeping. A lot of time, it – they – it comes with sleeping disorders. Getting out there and getting physically exhausted is going to make you sleep better. Will it make you sleep all night? I don’t know. Probably not. But it will make you sleep two, three hours more than you would sleep otherwise, and this is huge. In addition, a lot get motivated and end up going surfing with Joe at six o’clock in the morning on the other days. Knowing that they need to wake up at six o’clock in the morning and function will force them to start getting to right sleeping habit. Another physical benefit, Jacque was mentioning, of course, the balance and the vestibular (unintelligible) that some of the traumatic brain injury patients deal with. As we were saying, we have a lot of amputees. Amputees are almost doomed to suffer down the line for lower back pain issues due to the imbalance in their body. They need to develop strong muscles in their backs, their strong extensors, posterior chain needs to be strengthened. They can do it in a bowing gym setting with repetitive exercises or they can go out with Joe, with Elmer, have a blast, not think about their injury, not think about the amputation and the fact that they need to strengthen their back so they won’t suffer ten years from now from lower back pain. But as a by product to this fun that they just had, their back is getting tremendously stronger. This is the beauty of it. How many times in life we do something that we really, really, really enjoy and we benefit from it, and it’s good for us, and the by product that come with it are wonderful, too.

CAVANAUGH: And I also read, Betty, that a lot of guys who have to take a lot of pain medication, once they start surfing they don’t have to take as much. Do we know why that is?

KRAGH: No, we don’t. We don’t know why it is. We don’t know if it’s the temperature of the water, is it the pressure of the water, is it the adrenaline rush? We don’t know. We just know that we followed on some of our amputees and, yeah, they – There was this one particular soldier who lost both of his legs, above knee amputee, amazing surfer…

JACKSON: Yeah, he…

KRAGH: …that simply stopped taking his pain medication the days that he knew he was going to go surfing because he knew that the pain’s not going to bother him while he’s surfing and two hours later. To me, this is huge. To me, this soldier should be prescribed by the doctor to start his day with an hour surfing every day.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Elmer, I – what – you know, we only have about a minute left but I’m wondering are – how long do you think you’re going to keep this up?

UGARTE: Surfing?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

UGARTE: As long as I’m next to a beach. I mean, honestly, you can’t – this is something that’s going to be with me the rest of my life. I already have two boards so I have one for small days and I have one for big days. And it’s – I mean, it’s fantastic. It’s great. I don’t – I can’t – There’s too many words to describe it and not enough time. It’s the best therapy you could ever have. You’re definitely tired out there so if you have problems sleeping, you will be sleeping after. And it’s weird how all the fears you have and all the problems you have can all of a sudden go away with just a couple minutes—not even hours—a couple minutes into the day of surfing. It’s insane. I mean, it’s unex – I don’t know what it is. Do you know what it is? Because…

JACKSON: For surfing? Whatever it is about it?

UGARTE: Yeah, I don’t really know what it is.

JACKSON: It’s surfing.

UGARTE: That’s it.

JACKSON: I can get into the physiology of it all but that’s going to be boring to everybody. But it – Basically, your body just loves surfing and it’s like about any exercise. It’s like the runner’s high for guys that run a lot. Best analogy I can give you.

CAVANAUGH: We’ve got to end it there, fellas. I want to thank you so much. This has been so great. Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank my guests. Betty Michalewicz…

KRAGH: …Michalewicz Kragh and…

CAVANAUGH: …Kragh.

KRAGH: Thank you, and I want to say that it’s – that it is an honor and a privilege to work with this wonderful service member. Thank you, guys. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Joe Jackson, a – he’s a retired hospital corpsman. Marine corporal Elmer Ugarte.

UGARTE: There we go. We got it.

CAVANAUGH: All right. Jacque Moore was on the line with us. She’s physical therapist at Navy Medical Center. We also heard from Wally Fanene and Lifeguard Sergeant Jon Edelbrock. Thank you so much, all of you, for speaking with us today. I really appreciate it.

UGARTE: Thanks for having us.

JACKSON: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: If you want to comment, go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a moment here on KPBS.

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