Certain people have an aura, an energetic field, a vibe that uplifts all those around them.
That quiet force drew me to Sheree Perez during the Wake Awards at Surf Expo. Among the “creme de la creme”of wakeboarding’s finest, her beautiful face and bright smile caught my eye, and then it hit me. She was the girl Andy Lazarus had raved about earlier.
Stunned, I’d gawked at Andy’s phone while he showed me videos of Sheree hitting rails on an adaptive wakeboard. I remembered thinking of the courage it took the very first time I lined my board up towards a thin rail of white plastic and hoped for the best.
“This girl charges!” Andy beamed. He wasn’t exaggerating, we watched her sliding smoothly on the ramps, spinning on the rails and going big off the kickers.
Back at the Wake Awards, lost in a sea of talent, I lingered by Sheree and introduced myself.
She is not only gorgeous and brave; she is also sweet and nice! But above all, she has what it takes. That which points your course in one direction and never turns back.
I floated away feeling giddy, as if I’d been hit by a star. She had that effect. I was starstruck, inspired; on fire. Same thing happened when I tried to say something to Brad Smeele, but my cheeks got so hot, I am not sure what I said. I must have said thank you.
Hardships in life can crush our spirits, but there are some that don’t let anything hold them back. They develop special powers that keep them living in the light, overcoming challenge after challenge despite it all. And without knowing it, they help others grow. Those special beings I like to call heroes.
What were you doing before the snowboarding accident?
I was living in Idaho Springs in Colorado, where my family roots are, working at a local Indian Hot Springs. I rode boat for fun from when I was 16 until my injury at 22.
What happened on the day of your injury?
It was just like any normal day of riding. I was progressing my jumps and on the last jump I over-shot the landing and landed on my back in the flats. I was there with my ex fiancé at the time and he resuscitated me since I wasn’t breathing. Then I was flown on flight for life to a Denver hospital for surgery. I don’t really remember too much of the day, it’s a blur right after impact and I only remember screaming I couldn’t feel my legs during the helicopter ride. Three days later was when I gained consciousness, unaware of the severity of my injury because the first thing I wrote down to my parents (breathing tubes were down my throat) was to tell work I wasn’t making it in that day. HAHA
Can you tell me how long after your accident did you decide you were going to try wakeboarding again? How did you prepare physically and mentally?
My doctor recommended I focus on healing for the first two years to obtain optimal recovery so I followed through on his request. Three years later I stumbled across an Adaptive Rider, Will Speed. He was on Transworld and was killing it on boat and cable. So I did some research if there were any clinics in Colorado to give it a try. A clinic was held in Boulder, CO and I was able to deepwater start, then carved in and out of the wake with no assistance. I cried afterwards. I’d never thought I would be able to ride again.
How did you get into railing at the cable park?
Steve Jones with Mile High Wakeboarding owned a cable north of Denver and offered to work with me on his 2.0 set up. I met him a few months after my injury at one of his boat competitions prior. Once he noticed I was learning to ride again a few years later he was stoked to teach me cable. I am very grateful for everything he’s done for me.
When did you hit your first rail and how did it go?
My first time hitting rails was when I moved to Orlando. It was the flat bar on the beginner side and was my last run of the night before closing, so I gave it my all and cleared it first try.
How often do you practice? Do you have a coach?
Lately it’s only been once a week because I spent all my cable pass money on a new wakeboard seat. It’s designed more advanced than my older seat, so I’m getting the hang of it again. Next season I’ll go back to riding four days a week. I would consider John Lipscomb my coach. He takes all my pictures. He has years of experience with adaptive riders and knows exactly what I can and cannot do with this injury. I actually didn’t want to take pictures of my riding but after some time he convinced me what I was doing would be for the greater good to inspire others with disabilities to ride too.
What are your goals for this year? Are there rail contests for Sit Boarding?
With this new seat I want to be consistent of my original tricks, then once I have those down I’ll focus on 3’s on features and kickers. Sit Wakeboarding is not popular in the U.S., but growing rapidly in Europe. I would like to make it out to worlds in February in Argentina, but I will see on the funding for the trip.
Who inspires you?
I would say Brad Smeele and Ben Leclair. Unbelievable riders pushing the envelope before their injuries, and the severity of their injuries is greater than mine. They have a wonderful platform voicing the awareness of SCI. Also, Meme Pagnini (Italian cable sit wakeboarder) is another hero of mine. He flew out to OWC four years ago for a month and coached me on how to boardslide a flat rail. He was kind of that kick in my butt I needed to push myself harder, try more tricks and ride independently.
Do you have sponsors?
No sponsors at the moment. Sit Wakeboarding is just starting to capture some attention.
Where does your courage come from?
I’ve always been a firm believer you’re always in competition with yourself. I would say I get my courage from my father though. He’s always pushed me to be the best athlete in whichever sport I participate in.