Vets living with disabilities hit water for wakeboarding competition in Minnetonka

Hundreds of wake surfers are gearing up to hit the waters of Lake Minnetonka Saturday for the annual Minnesota Wake Surfing Championships.

Among those athletes, a group of injured veterans are surfing with an organization called "Wake for Warriors."

Thursday, we had the opportunity to get out on the water with the group.

There will be moments in life that leave you with chills. Moments that force a smile that make you stop and remember. This is one of those moments.

Mike Nelson says, "I've had multiple brain injuries due to falls and blasts. Lost my vision due to that and have constant pain in my head that can get worse at times."

For injured veterans such as Mike Nelson, it’s the water, and a special program called "Wake for Warriors" that washes away the pain of 11 years in the Army.

"They’re not necessarily secrets, like the organizations keep it a secret, but vets tell other vets about amazing opportunities. For whatever reason, we're not very great at finding them ourselves. And I found out about Wake for Warriors."

He explains, "It’s a big family. It’s a big team that is dedicated to healing and growth."

"Everything is set right when you’re on a surfboard," says Nelson. "And when you’re connected with the wave and the water, especially if you can’t see it, and you have to feel it. Everything just feels right. You know instantly when something feels wrong because you’re in the drink.” 

Mike is no longer able to see. And another surfer named Ryan is unable to walk. But when they’re out on the water, none of that matters.

"It helps people relax," explains founder Dave Deep. "Just not think about the troubles of the day, and then when you add an activity like wake surfing or wakeboarding, you really don’t have time to think about anything else because you’re concentrating on what you’re doing."

What started in Dave’s backyard now reaches across the country to those who need it most, inspiring people outside and inside the boat.

"The balance you have to have," says professional wake surfer Jodi Grassman. "I can’t imagine just going out there and closing my eyes to just stand there to feel the wave, and know how to go back and forth between the waves and carve at the same time... it’s unreal.”

That’s why it all comes back to those moments...

Deep says, "We all struggle at some point. And it’s how -- to watch them handle it and cope with some really tough issues sometimes, and it’s inspirational to me, and it’s easy to continue to do it."

"It’s really neat to see them smile, and know their thinking only about what they’re doing, and the moment, and enjoying that," adds Deep. "They’re starting to challenge my ability to teach them, and that’s why I have to bring in pros, so they can continue to progress. And they really don’t get the opportunity to do it outside of Wake for Warriors for the most part.”

The moments worth sharing and remembering.