Among the many stories of human courage and achievement, Jesse Billauer’s might be one of the most inspirational.
Born in California in 1979, Billauer became a star athlete at an early age. He excelled in baseball, soccer and floor hockey; that is, until he discovered surfing. He became so passionate about it that by the time he was 11, he was already surfing competitively. By the mid-90’s, Surfer magazine had named him “One of the Top 100 up-and-coming surfers of the world”.
In March, 1996, however, things would radically change. Shortly after being rated No. 1 among Juniors in the Pacific Surf Series, the 17-year-old Billauer was hit by the crest of a wave that propelled him headfirst into a shallow sandbar, fracturing his neck. Transported by helicopter to the UCLA Medical Center, he was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury that would leave him a quadriplegic, with no sensation or movement below mid-chest and limited use of his arms and hands.
He was hospitalized for almost three months, after which he returned home, where caregivers, family and friends provided unconditional support. It was perhaps during this adaptation process that Billauer decided he would resume living life to its fullest. In an effort to do so, he created a non-profit organization, the Life Rolls On Foundation (LRO).
According to its website, LRO’s efforts are “focused on raising the level of awareness regarding spinal cord injury, motivating others with such injury to resume an active lifestyle, and encouraging able-bodied volunteers to become inspired by these efforts.”
LRO has three main areas of focus, the first of which is the “They will surf again” program (TWSA), based on Billauer’s own experiences surfing after he sustained his injury. The no-cost program relies on volunteers and sponsors. It offers injured athletes the opportunity to experience surfing in a joyful and safe way, in spite of their physical limitations.
Many of these athletes were surfers before the injury; some of them have never surfed. All of them, however, gather together to confirm that life can still be amazing with a spinal cord injury.
Most of the volunteers who cooperate with TWSA are experienced surfers and lifeguards who are committed to raising awareness about spinal cord injuries while gifting the lives of others.
Another important focus of LRO is spinal cord injury research aimed at finding a cure for spinal cord related-injuries. Since its creation, LRO has raised more than $250,000, all donated to spinal cord injury research.
Last, but definitively not least, LRO also focuses on motivation and raising awareness, “Shifting the paradigms in the general public, and amongst the disabled, that life with a spinal cord injury does indeed roll on – a message of overcoming obstacles in the face of extreme adversity.”
Billauer tours the country delivering motivational speeches to the public, in which he shares his life experiences. He has also been featured in such television shows as Good Morning America, Dateline, The Learning Channel’s While You Were Out and Extreme Makeover Home Edition. He also participated in the motion picture Step into Liquid.
Some of the messages Billauer is prompt to share with others are: “Enjoy today, tomorrow is not guaranteed”; “Your world as you know it can change in an instant”; “Don’t wait for a tragedy to motivate you to tell those important to you that you love them”, and “No matter how bad things may appear, happiness is just a positive thought away”.
Volunteers are essential to LRO’s goals. Even though LRO is based in California, they can join in the effort from anyplace in the world. Their website states: “Volunteer in one or several different ways: whether assisting with a TWSA event in your area, spreading the word about spinal cord injury and LRO, or raising valuable financial support. We need your help!”
Florida will soon host a TWSA event for the first time. “We are very excited to be bringing programs to Florida in 2007,” said LRO ambassador Van Starling. “Our first-ever east coast event went so well in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., that we knew that Florida would be the next logical step for us.”
Jesse’s brother, Josh Billauer, LRO’s president, has received numerous requests from Floridians who have suffered an injury or know of someone else who has.
“As of now, we are shooting for May 2007 for our first event to be held in Cocoa Beach,” explained Starling. “With the help of Carl Bergstrom, who is out of the Ft. Lauderdale area, and me in Vero Beach, we are hoping that (everyone) will have an opportunity to participate. There is a good chance that some big-name local professional surfers will be participating.”
Starling has a strong faith in the TWSA program, mainly based in his experiences at these events. “In our NC event, we had a participant who became paralyzed six years ago,” he recalled. “Chris came to our event with a thought that it was not going to be easy for him. Since becoming paralyzed from the waist down, he had not even visited the beach, and by the end of the day, he was surfing for the first time in six years!”
Starling also noted the vital role of volunteers. “It’s an amazing camaraderie that forms, and it is just such a gratifying thing to see strangers become good friends through helping each other out,” he noted. “All the while opening their eyes to possibilities, which is what LRO is all about.”
For more information on how to become a LRO member or a volunteer, call 866-939-4559 or visit www.liferollson.org. To inquire about Florida’s TWSA event call Van Starling at 772-453-4558. To request a motivational visit by Jesse Billauer, visit www.jessebillauer.com.
By Sandra Silva