My name is Ron Ziebell, or “Rondog” as everyone knows me as.
I was a professional Bodyboarder, or “boogie boarder” as many know it as, for many years when I was in my twenties and have had a love for the waves and the ocean since I was 12 years old. I’ve competed and traveled in many countries, searching for the “perfect” wave for more than 30 years. On June 20, 2008 at the age of 42, it all ended for me.
I was riding at one of my favorite surf spots, and one of the most dangerous in the world, “The Wedge”, in Newport Beach, Ca.
One small, wrong move, got me slammed on the bottom and held under. When I popped up, I was paralyzed from the waist down with nobody near me in this early morning session. I realized what had happened immediately because over the past 25 years of riding at this dangerous spot, I’ve seen it happen to quite a few people. Most of them paralyzed from the neck down or worse, a few not making it at all. But, I never thought about it happening to me, drowning maybe, but not paralysis. The next wave came quickly and without thinking, I put myself in the usual position of being on my back with feet first towards the whitewash, so it will push me to shore. Unfortunately, the wave picked up my legs and threw them up towards my face and I felt my ears touch my knees as they went flying by and I ended up being folded in half and thrown like a rag doll. I knew this wasn’t good and started to panic a bit. I was having a hard time breathing as my organs were now displaced and pressing on my lungs. I turned myself around to head face first for all the next waves that hit me. All I could think about was my wife and kids and I prayed for God to forgive me of my sins and please help me.
Out of the blue a friend of mine who was down the beach had caught a wave in my direction but was paddling back the other way. I put everything I had into one big scream and yelled his name. “CHAD!” Luckily, he heard me and came to my rescue. Who he was is another very interesting part of my story, for another time. The surgeons said they couldn’t believe I didn’t snap my spinal cord and only gave me a 10% chance of ever walking again. After having 12 titanium pins put in my backbone, 2 months in the hospital and extreme rehab, and 3 years of therapy, I am driving, and walking with a brace below my left knee for ankle and calf support. It’s a balancing act everyday and pain is still always an issue. Nothing is back 100%. But, I know how lucky I am to be alive and upright and not in a wheelchair but at the same time it can be so hard to deal with the fact that I can’t run with my kids or just go jump in the ocean and catch waves like I always took for granted.
But after seeing Nick’s story and hearing him speak, I realize that I should be so thankful that I am even here and that I can do the things that I do and not focus on what I can’t do anymore. And most of all, thank God and focus on what His plan for me really is. I used to walk with God but was pulling away from Him, little by little, focusing on the waves more than Him or my family. I used think “How could I ever change and not be so in love with the surf?” That day in 2008 I found out the answer that would bring me back to His loving arms as well as my family’s.
I thank Nick for his inspirational story and encouragement to every one of us. It makes me feel I can do anything and look at everything as a challenge to me! Showing the world what God has done in my life! I recently got back out in the ocean and rode some waves on my Bodyboard and am very excited to do it more in the future. Not at the “Wedge” anymore, of course. But, I now take photographs of everybody there, riding those huge waves that roll in every summer, and love it!
Thanks again, Nick! I look forward to meeting you one day! God bless you!