COCOA BEACH, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - As a surfer, Matt Bellina has always loved the power of the ocean. "Surfing is a really big part of my life. Just love it," he said.
But two years ago to the day, that all ended in a tragic accident on a 40-foot tall waterslide at Fischer park. The Cocoa Beach father of one went down head first and hit the end of the slide, shattering two vertebra in his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
"Began talking about being a quadriplegic and being paralyzed, I said, 'What are you talking about? I'm fine, I just got hurt. I just need to do whatever I need to do to get out of the hospital and be ok.'"
But he was far from ok. With a crushed spinal cord, there was no guarantee the surfer would ever walk again, let alone, get in the water. But when life appeared to be at it's lowest point for the 40-year-old former surfer, his friends saw something amazing.
"I've never seen anyone go through such a tragedy and laugh and smile and be in such a good attitude all the time," said Tony Sasso, who has known Matt for 15 years. He says he was shocked, when after two years of intense physical therapy, his wheelchair-bound surfing friend regained movement in his arms and his torso.
So his friends floated an idea: a return to the ocean. "They promised to take care of me, I said, 'Ok, let's do it!'"
Using a four-foot-wide sail board, a half-dozen friends put Bellina on board and towed him out into the surf, and they stayed close to his side. "I think we were all stressing about how it was going to work out," said Sasso. And for good reason. On Bellina's first wave, he wiped out. "A couple guys said let's go in, let's go in. I said, 'No way!" said an excited Bellina. So on his third wave, he separated from his friends for a just a moment, and in that moment, he was surfing again. "It really felt good! I could feel myself balance and sit up.
The success in the water has only emboldened Bellina's desire for a bigger goal: to one day walk again. An incredible challenge to be sure, but Bellina says his faith, his friends, and the power of the ocean will help him get there. "And I believe that, so I'm going to. It's not a question, it's a matter of when."
Bellina's friends have set up a go fund me account to help offset the expensive costs of therapy to help him walk again. Click here for more information.