Something special happens when Isaiah Vargas stands up on his surfboard and floats atop a wave. In that moment, everything else — the stresses of school, the symptoms of his autism, even just the daily pressures of being a kid — seem to wash away.
“I feel free, happy and super awesome,” Isaiah says. “I feel happy because I caught my wave, I feel brave and I’m not afraid.”
Cheering him on from the sandy shores of Cocoa Beach, Fla., Rolando and Lisa Vargas see it, too. His parents see how much surfing helps their son, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at age 3.
“When we see Isaiah on the board, it becomes an equilibrium — no diagnosis, no treatment, no therapy, zero filter,” Rolando says. “Isaiah is in his raw form. At least, this is what my wife tells me. Half the time my eyes are sweating from joy.”
Rolando, Lisa and Isaiah’s surfing coach, Ashley Nolan, aren’t the only ones who have noticed Isaiah’s surfing skills.
The 14-year-old Star Scout from Troop 210 of Winter Garden, Fla. (Central Florida Council), has been selected to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Fla.
While some families feel they have to choose between Scouting and their children’s athletic pursuits, Rolando and Lisa have seen how perfectly the two can coexist.
“Scouting and surfing both have structure, discipline and learning opportunities for hard work,” Rolando says. “Surfing requires bravery, and Isaiah’s favorite point of the Scout Law is ‘brave.’ Change does not come easy for him, but by reminding himself that he is brave, he tries his best to acclimate to his surroundings.”
About the Special Olympics USA Games
The Special Olympics USA Games have been held every four years since 2006, bringing together children and adults with intellectual disabilities for a celebration of strength, perseverance and the push for a more inclusive world.
For the 2022 edition next June, Isaiah will be one of the 5,500 athletes and coaches from across the United States who will travel to Walt Disney World for a week of high-spirited competition in 20 Olympic-style team and individual sports.
Surfing will make its Olympic Games debut in Tokyo this summer. Following that wave of surfing enthusiasm, the Special Olympics USA Games will introduce surfing to its competition for the first time in 2022.
That means Isaiah, who began surfing when he was 5, will be part of history.
The surfing competition will be held at Typhoon Lagoon, a water park at Walt Disney World.
Told to ‘try Scouting’
Longtime readers of this blog might recognize Isaiah’s name. In 2017, we shared the story of how the Vargas family was first introduced to Scouting.
When Rolando and Lisa learned of their son’s autism diagnosis, “our world was turned upside down,” Rolando says.
They noticed more symptoms as Isaiah got older. He was shy, didn’t like playing with other kids and had a short temper. He never made eye contact.
A family friend offered a suggestion: “Try Scouting.” And they did. In November 2014, Isaiah became a Cub Scout in Pack 217, based in Orlando.
Seven years later, Isaiah is now a Star Scout and proudly tells us he has “just three more requirements to get to Life.”
Isaiah says he loves Scouting because he gets to learn new skills, have fun and go hiking.
“I love hiking because it’s quiet,” he says. “I also love working on merit badges, rank advancement and camping.”
Never giving up
Surfing can be freeing. It can also be frustrating.
Even as his surfing skills have improved, Isaiah still has the occasional wipeouts.
But every time he falls, “I feel I have to try again,” he says.
Rolando believes Isaiah learned some of that determination in Scouting, where young people learn to face tough challenges with a smile.
This journey has been a learning experience for Rolando and Lisa, too. Raising a son with special needs has been difficult, but — with some help from Scouting and surfing — they are shining.
“You will always have good days and bad days. But you must keep moving forward,” Rolando says. “Never give up, never settle and always remember that nothing is impossible.”