Eleven-year-old Sean Fleming didn’t hesitate as he waded into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving his worries at shore.
He balanced on his surfboard and stood up beaming, bracing himself against a wave — a courageous feat as a recent cancer survivor.
He’s among more than 40 children affected by childhood cancer participating at Indo Jax surf camp at North Carolina’s Wrightsville Beach, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare’s “Do Good. Live Well.” employee volunteer initiative, which has supplied funding to the program since 2014.
A recent $30,000 grant also allowed 71 families of children with autism to attend surfing camps, as well as giving 47 families of visually impaired children the same opportunity.
“I’ve been surfing here for at least three years now,” Sean said. “You're scared at first and then once you just do it a couple times, it's just really fun.”
Sean was diagnosed with a rare bone and tissue cancer called Ewing sarcoma at the age of 3. His doctors removed three ribs and part of his lung to fight the spread of the disease and put in a chest protector.
“He is actually not able to do a lot of contact sports. So, this is something that I feel is so controlled, and the water is very therapeutic for him to come out. I bring him because I want him to have this experience,” said Corina Fleming, Sean’s mother.
Indo Jax holds surf camps for children with special medical needs to expose them to the ocean environment and healing powers of the water. The families attending the childhood cancer camp also include parents who have lost children, or siblings of kids who are sick.
“The ocean is sort of a microcosm of what an overall life is like. You have ups and downs. You are going to get a wipe out and these kids have had wipe outs,” said Jack Viorel, Indo Jax founder. “And when they catch that first wave and they stand up and ride it all the way to shore, you can just see that they've changed in the way that they think about themselves.”
Sean reaps the benefits of surf camp, which is now a yearly getaway for his family. The beach is one place where a boy’s burdens can wash away.
“It's one thing that I just don't want to miss out on,” Sean said.