Surf's up for wounded vets, disabled

Vietnam War veteran Jerry Miserandino, who lost both hands while disarming a booby trap, was all smiles as he surfed during the 12th annual “Hit the Beach” event at North Beach in Hampton for wounded veterans and others with disabilities.

HAMPTON

Life changed in 1967 for Vietnam veteran Jerry Miserandino.

That was the year the former Army Airborne Ranger from North Woodstock lost his hands while disarming a booby trap.

It was an injury that could have sidelined him forever, but he refused to let his sudden disability stop him.

Miserandino is a 75-year-old sports enthusiast who remains active today.

He’s a certified ski instructor for both regular and adaptive water and snow skiing, and is also a kayak instructor for both.

And Miserandino wasn’t afraid to give surfing a try 12 years ago.

With some help from volunteers, he returned to North Beach in Hampton on Friday to catch yet another wave or two.

Facing challenges through sports has helped him adjust to his new way of life.

“The adjustment has been just getting the feeling that if I can do this small thing then I can do anything else. I keep looking for challenges to keep moving on with life. If I’m able to do this, now I can water ski, now I can snow ski, now I can bike and kayak. I just adapt the equipment to what my disability is,” said Miserandino, who helps other wounded veterans as a peer review counselor at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Miserandino wasn’t the only one with a positive attitude who grabbed a surfboard at North Beach.

Surf's up for wounded vets, disabled

Dozens of volunteers pitched in to help wounded veterans and others with disabilities participate in a surfing event Friday at North Beach in Hampton.

Dozens of veterans and others with disabilities joined him for the Wounded Warrior Project’s 12th annual “Hit the Beach” surfing event.

Volunteers from local surf shops and the community teamed up to make it another successful year — and one these heroes won’t forget.

The local “Hit the Beach” event is organized by veteran surfer Ralph Fatello, past commander of American Legion Post 35.

“Speaking from my own personal experience, surfing saved my life 50 years ago when I came back from Vietnam. It was my therapy. It was my sanctuary. It did so much for me,” said Fatello, a Hampton resident who served in the Marines.

When the 69-year-old Fatello became commander of the American Legion following 9/11, he said he was looking for things to do for the community and often saw Wounded Warrior events involving kayaking, whitewater rafting and other similar activities.

He proposed the idea for a surfing event, but it got a bit of a cold response at first.

Fatello insisted it could be done and explained the important role surfing played in his life.

Fatello said New Hampshire became the first state to take wounded warriors surfing.

He created the mantra, “Surfing heals all wounds.”

“It is true,” he said.

For the surfers, skill level isn’t important. All that matters is getting on the board.

“Surfing is riding a wave. You can be standing up. You can be kneeling down. You can be sitting down. You can be laying down. You’re still riding the wave. You don’t need all the limbs. If you’re dealing with serious injuries, you’re just riding the wave and still feeling the same sensation,” Fatello said.

Laura Gifford of Manchester also participated through New England Disabled Sports, which provides adaptive sport instruction to adults and children with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Gifford, 37, battles multiple sclerosis and surfed for the first time a week and a half ago in Maine with a special surfing group. It was good practice for Friday’s event, which featured larger waves.

“It was awesome. We spent more time wave jumping, but my first two times I stood up. It was fun,” she said.

For Gifford, who teaches kindergarten in Manchester, the key is staying active.

“People need to realize that you can do anything. You just might have to do it differently. There are people out there that are willing to help you, and if you don’t know how to do it, they’re willing to work with you to find a way to do it,” she said.

Friday’s surfing was important for people like Navy veteran Gregory P. Major, 55, of Pelham, who suffered a brain injury in an off-duty motorcycle accident in the 1980s, and Dave Taylor, whose prosthetic left leg didn’t keep him out of the water.

The 32-year-old Taylor, a Derry native, is a seven-year Army veteran who did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, which is where he lost his leg after stepping on a roadside bomb in 2011.

This was also his first time surfing.

“It was definitely a learning curve. You’ve got to use different muscle groups, and it’s a different type of balance,” said Taylor, who managed to stand up on the board several times.

Surf's up for wounded vets, disabled

With help from volunteers, Mike Morasco Sr. of Epping, a disabled Army Corps of Engineers officer, rides a wave during the Wounded Warrior Project’s surfing event.

Mike Morasco Sr., 77, of Epping, is a disabled Army Corps of Engineers officer who had bodysurfed in the past.

He remained on his stomach as he rode the waves with his board.

“It was fabulous,” said Morasco, who commended the many volunteers who helped with the event.