It was finals day at the AccesSurf Hawai‘i Adaptive Surfing Championship, and I was on a twelve-foot surfboard with Ryan preparing to head out to Queen’s surf break at Waikiki for our twenty-minute heat. I was lying toward the front of the board, with my chest on the ramp, while he was my adaptive tandem partner. He began paddling, and our pusher and shadow caught up to us. I saw the Diamond Head crater dis- appear past my left shoulder as we started toward the markers. The professional water-safety guys were waiting for us on Jet Skis pulling tow rafts. When our board was loaded onto one of the rafts by our pusher and shadow, Ryan reached over me and grabbed on to the handles of the raft. Then the Jet Ski roared to life, and we sped toward the giant red inflated markers identifying the starting line for Queen’s break, where we would surf. We bounced over the waves, the smell of the ocean mixed with the exhaust fumes from the Jet Ski, and my heart raced with happiness. Even if nothing else happened during the whole heat, I knew that I was having an amazing experience that few people would ever have. I was thrilled.

We caught a few little waves, but nothing of note. At the end of one, the catchers on the inside had turned us around so that we were pointed away from the beach, ready to be picked up by the Jet Skis and taken back out to the lineup. However, we were squarely in the break zone and about to go nose-first up the face of a four-foot wave. I’d been on enough waves over the years to know that we weren’t going to get over it, and as I saw it getting ready to break right on top of us—and in my face—Ryan saw it too. I heard the words he’d said when we started out, but he was calm then. Now, his voice was shouting in my mind: “Your only job is to hold on! You have to stay on the board!”

This excerpt is from Heather C. Markham’s new book, Rough Waters: From Surviving to Thriving with a Progressive Muscular Dystrophy. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Heather C. Markham is an engineer, assistive technology professional, public speaker, competitive Para Surfer, educator, ADA architectural barriers specialist, golfer, and award-winning international photographer. Her company, Making Waves for Good, launched in 2018 as an umbrella for a variety of ventures including publishing and photographic projects and to help companies solve disability access problems they didn't know they had—not just staying within ADA code but looking beyond it to make the world more accessible and usable for all. Heather currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her super snuggly Maine coon cat.