The day was Daytona bright. It was sunny and 85. There was a wind swell. Waves were clean, peaky, and chest high. Michael Vecchio had already caught 10 waves. He saw another and began to paddle. He popped up, hit the face, quick turned backside, and started racing left. He could feel the wave begin to close out. He saw a spot of water that looked deep. He kicked out, diving into the ocean. That was all he remembered.
Mike awoke underneath 8 feet of water. Everything was dark. He kicked frantically to the surface. There was a zing of pain coursing through one side of his body. As he reached to pull himself up on his board, he realized that the entire right side of his body was paralyzed. Blood began to pool into his eyes and mouth from a head wound. A wave came along and he used its force to push to the shore. He struggled out of the water, scanning the beach for anyone who could help him. He phoned his friends, who arrived to take him to the hospital. He was immediately admitted and diagnosed with a broken neck. Some very dark days would follow.
Left paralyzed on the right hand side, Michael could no longer drive, travel, surf, or work the job that he loved as a professional lifeguard. Instead, Michael was forced to rely on the help of his family as he tired to piece himself back together. This was devastating because Michael has a very uneasy relationship with his family, especially his mother.
When Michael was in 7th grade, his parents got divorced. His dad left. His mom started working at a restaurant. She became addicted to drugs. She had a guy move in who was verbally abusive. She would sleep all day. Drug dealers would be in and out of the house. They would steal his and his older brother’s things. Michael’s mom’s boyfriend threatened to kill his mom. Mike grabbed his paintball gun and vowed to shoot him. The man took off, and Michael’s mom said she was going to kill herself.
This sort of traumatic life experience, in his formative years, caused Michael to develop a habit of never staying in one place. At the time of his accident, Michael was living the surfer life. He stayed planted on Long Island, where he was born, only in the spring and summer. As soon as the fall and winter arrived, he would take off to Costa Rica. He would stay with best friends and live the carefree lifestyle. After the accident, he was terrified that those days were over.
After the accident, Michael was left splitting his time staying with his mother, and his brother. Grappling with a deep depression, and trying to stay busy. He would go for long walks on the beach and take pictures. The most dangerous thing was being idle. He was plagued by fears of all kinds, Would he always be paralyzed? Would he ever surf again? Would he be able to make a living?
One day, he arrived back to his mother’s house to find her passed out from drugs. It seemed she was no longer in recovery. Michael admits to snapping that day. He felt as though the weight of the world was on him. Luckily, he had the support of his older brother. His brother got him out on the water on a paddle board. But, it was still hard.
Michael said, “I was in a hole after that day. I had so many questions with life. Why was I here? What was I suppose to do? I wasn’t sleeping. My mind was always racing. I was so incredibly sad. I tried to do everything right, but there I was. I needed a job, a better living situation. I wanted someone to love, and to share my life with. I had nothing.”
This was a terrifying revelation for someone who had spent most of his adult life trying to avoid the very sorts of things that ground the rest of us, full-time jobs, family, and relationships.
Some people might be crushed under the pressure of life circumstances such as these, but Michael Vecchio has an inner light and strength that is very obvious to anyone who is lucky enough to spend time with him. Despite everything that had happened, Michael was not going to give up.
After three weeks, Michael went into the pool and took his neck brace off. He wasn’t suppose to. He was suppose to be resting, but he couldn’t. It was difficult to swim because he didn’t have feeling in one arm. He relied on bands and floatation devices. He went to physical therapy and was committed to moving his arm to get feeling back. Five weeks in, he did feel a surge of fire down his arm. It was a start. He is still numb from his biceps down to his thumb but things are improving.Michael is coming to terms with the fact that he won’t ever be 100 percent. Right now, he has about 35 % strength back, and his mobility is about 90%. This has not stopped him from surfing.
The doctor didn’t want him to surf. The doctors were afraid he would dislocate his arm. But, he had to. Surfing was his happiness and his therapy. He was sorely in need of both. He started with a paddle board. It was about 3 months after the injury occurred. But, that very same day, he got on his surf board. He caught one wave. After, he was too tired to paddle anymore. But, he didn’t stop there. He kept going back day after day.
Michael is officially back to surfing He still has to compensate for his injury. He rides an 8 foot foam board, instead of his regular short board. His one side is still weak. But, once he pops up, he flies, turns, and is magic on the water. This helped him to regain a sense of calm in the midst of his mother’s tumult.
Michael has gone back to working full time at Gurney’s Resort and Spa. This summer, he made five rescues, and was 100 percent confident on the job. In fact, for his lifeguarding test, he came in 11th out of 100 people. If he had one hundred percent use of both arms, he would have been first.
“After my accident, I realized something. I could have died that day.” He said. ” I got a second chance. I’m not going to waste it.”
Michael moved out to Montauk where he surfs, works, and is starting a business with his best friend. This company will combine his love of the ocean, and his passion for photography. Michael plans to continue his travels to Costa, and beyond. He has met a woman that he finds very special. All these things give him hope. He may never have full use of his right arm, and he may never be able to save his mother from herself, but he is certain that he can save himself.
Contributor: Kelly Russell
Where is her favorite travel destination? Any place that has warm waves that she can surf
Where is her dream destination?
Maldives. She isn’t sure about the idea of soul-mates, but she believes in soul places. She hasn’t found hers yet, but Maldives seems to have all the characteristics.
Motto in life? Believe in magic. If you don’t believe in magic, you will never find it.
Kelly specializes in booking impromptu surf trips under 500 dollars, making friends on foreign coastlines, and laughing at herself.
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