The waters bubbled with anticipation as the paddler-boarders lined up. In front of them lay one of the most challenging whitewater course – Kelly’s Whitewater Park. All eyes are on one particular racer; he seems oblivious to the looks from fellow racers and paddlers. He is completely focused on the rapids he has to navigate. The others are a bit apprehensive, our man is calm and collected. The racer has experienced tougher trials.
An Unlikely Winner
The horn sounds and the racers are off.
One after the other, their paddles pierce the water’s surface and push ahead. The crowd cheers, but all that you can hear is the breathing and grunting of men competing against each other, and themselves. Some of them are overcome by the waters that gurgle and spit. Some find their own method of overcoming the hostile waters by ducking and swerving; at times, even kneeling. There is, however, one racer who stands apart from the rest – our racer.
He navigates the course as if he were born to do it. The crowd increases its volume, cheering the man on. And when he crosses the finish line, there is rapture. He raises his paddle to the skies as if he were offering the heavens a special gift. All eyes are now definitely on him; and they certainly should be: Jonas Letieri, an adaptive paddler who lost both his arms below the elbow, had just beaten competitors who have both hands intact.
From Tragedy To Triumph
Imagine if the ocean was your true passion, if all that you ever wanted to do was surf, and then surf some more. Every living minute you thought about riding the waves. Then, it all gets taken away from you in a split second.
Jonas was volunteering at his church when an electrical surge pulsed through his arms. When he woke up, he found himself in a hospital bed. Realization slowly dawned that his life had changed forever.
Roberto Letieri, however, was not yet willing to give up on his son’s dream. He immediately formulated a plan to get Jonas back on the board as quickly as possible. The father and son duo soon realized that surfing would have to give way to something else. Cue: SUP.
No Challenge Too Small
In 2014, Jonas entered Brazil’s Battle Of The Paddle (BOP). The long, broad SUP provided a stable platform, while a modified paddle attached to his elbows with rings provided the thrust. The result: the adaptive paddler finished an awe-inspiring second. And thus began Jonas Letieri’s SUP career, which has taken off like a rocket.
They say that when you wish for something with all your heart, the universe makes it happen for you.
At the BOP, Jonas’ victory inspired Quickblade-founder, Jim Terrell, to design a customized paddle stick: A lightweight paddle, with a u-shaped section that provides better comfort and leverage than the regular ones. The adaptive paddler immediately found that his speed improved, especially on downwind runs.
Jonas has just been going from one victory to another ever since. He finished second at the Triple Crown event held in Brazil. The racer also finished fourth in the 2016 King and Queen of the Sea. Another fourth place was achieved in Salt Lake Tahoe race, besides winning the Most Awesome Award for best attitude displayed by a racer. I think everyone would agree with that.
Perhaps his sternest test yet was the Tommy Bahama Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival. Jonas completed the PaddleCross course and 5.5-mile distance race braving cold winds, a world apart from his sunny native Brazil.
Next up, Jonas is looking to become the first ever adaptive paddler to compete in the prestigious Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships. He aims to be in the men’s SUP relay division.
Jonas Letieri is an inspiration not only to me, but to the tight-knit SUP community as well. His story is an apt reminder of what anyone can achieve if they have the heart and the willpower for it.