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Cultural Nuances Of The U.S. & Italy

Stand, Walk, Surf, Repeat! Beyond limits

Meet Fabrizio Passetti, an adaptive surfer, and a role model

Fabrizio Passetti a professional surfer

Fabrizio Passetti, a professional Italian surfer, was born in Genoa, Italy. Surfing has always been his great passion. Fabrizio’s love for this sport and the waves has never faltered, even in the hardest moments. It was the kind of passion that gave him the strength to accept and overcome challenges.

He would have given his life for the possibility to get back to the water to experience these fantastic moments again – moments that only surfing can give him. Fabrizio would have given anything to feel that adrenaline again and return to that lifestyle, waking up at dawn to ride the best waves, feeling the mounting excitement the night before a ride, and sharing it with his friends.

Big Wednesday

Fabrizio started surfing at the age of 13, shortly after his family moved to Varazze, one of the best surf spots in Italy. He did not have the opportunity to discover this sport before. In Varazze, Fabrizio saw some photos on the wall in a bar and familiarized himself with local surfers, who soon became his models and good friends. It did not take long for him to understand that he had to follow that passion and that surfing was what made him feel fulfilled. He started as a ‘free surfer’ and was learning quickly.

Back then, you could only learn from the more experienced as the internet was not that popular, and it was not easy to find materials or references. With movies on videotape that had to be ordered abroad, the options were rather limited. Fabrizio can still remember watching and rewatching Big Wednesday, a classic, all the other surfers watched at that time, and how he wished to be just like the main character. Fabrizio was the youngest in his spot. Along with his great mate and fantastic surfer Fabio Giusto, they were learning faster than everybody else.

They were the grommets, two reckless little rebels with no fear, pushing themselves hard – two daredevils, to say the least! The two started to take part in contests, although they did not really find it exciting to execute tricks to get a score. They would rather explore moves and tricks themselves to improve their level and have fun. Nevertheless, Fabrizio and Fabio always finished in the top rankings, and Fabio was always one step ahead of Fabrizio. At 16, Fabrizio competed at the Italian National Championships, for what would be the last time.

He placed 5th and Fabio 3rd. That disappointing placement motivated Fabrizio to try again the following year, so he started training even more and in a matter of months, he reached a level far above the previous year. It was the year 2000, and he could finally say, “I could surf.”

Motorcycle accident

A few months before the championships, Fabrizio was involved in a motorcycle accident with a friend and lost a leg. His friend was not hurt. It was the beginning of Fabrizio’s calvary. On the day of his 18th birthday, September 9, he was told his leg had to be amputated. Years in hospital ensued with infections, painful rehabilitation, and more infections – a vicious, exhausting torture that would not end. For a year and a half, he could not even wear a prosthetic limb. However, the most terrifying part was that he could not get back to the sea.

Finally, in Switzerland, thanks to a great professor, Sebastiano Martinoli, (Fabrizio even named his second son, Sebastiano, as a tribute to the professor), the infection was healed. Martinoli managed to thoroughly clean the bone and treated Fabrizio with seawater. Simple, but effective.

As a result of Martinoli’s treatment, the remaining part of the joint was intact (Fabrizio’s amputation ends in the middle of the kneecap, which allows him only about 60 % of movement). Fabrizio started walking again, rather well, and normal life resumed. He traveled and started a rewarding career as a chef, working in Italy, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.

In the meantime, one way or the other, Fabrizio just could not bid farewell to his surfing passion in full. He was trying to return with any kind of device: he practiced body board, using a resin prosthetic leg with a fixed foot which allowed no movement, and which he used to lose every time he was in the sea. Yet, it did not discourage Fabrizio. On the contrary, the bigger the waves and the harder the conditions became, the more stubborn he was, but sometimes, the frustration was unbearable. For years, he had nightmares.

Fabrizio Passetti a professional adaptive surfer

Life’s new chapter

Then, back in Italy, Fabrizio opened a new chapter in his life. He started a family, and his son was born. Fabrizio’s son became his priority, replacing the sea and filling the void. Filippo is the most important person in his life, his angel. Fabrizio felt he wanted to transfer all his passion for surfing and the sea to his son as this was the only legacy he could leave. However, in the beginning, Fabrizio’s passion had the opposite effect on Filippo, who, although very young, could still feel how much it was also hurting his father.

One day, Fabrizio’s knee got infected again due to a fault in the prosthetic leg as it was built off-axis. He fought not to have his leg amputated further. “The treatments were long and painful: eight months of a hyperbaric chamber, three IV antibiotics per day, endless waiting times, careless doctors, a cumbersome health system, and orthopedists who were disheartening, to say the least. They didn’t care if I could walk again, let alone believe I could surf again,” Fabrizio recollects.

Despite the excruciating pain, he bought himself a wet suit, and on his initiative, Fabrizio began to go swimming every day to rehabilitate the leg. He also used to go to the gym, while still following the IV antibiotic course. The knee was getting better, almost miraculously. 

Then, with the help of a fantastic doctor specializing in infectious diseases, doctor Carrega, who had known Fabrizio for a long time and was aware of how active he had been before the relapse, they asked the prosthetic clinic to build a new prosthesis so that Fabrizio could try to support the leg. But the medical center refused to do it as they “didn’t want to take the responsibility.”

In the spur of a moment, when Fabrizio was with his father and son, he took an old prosthetic leg he used in the past to walk, wrapped it with sellotape up until around his waist, took a surfboard, and entered the sea. As if he was in a dream he stood up on the board and rode a couple of waves. Happy, he told his son, “There will be one day when it will be just you, me, and the sea.”

Designing and building a prosthesis

Fabrizio went back to the clinic and asked to build a prosthesis he had designed, which was suitable for surfing. With his new limb, he left for Bali. During the first week, everything was perfect: he started surfing again, not as well as he used to, but it felt like he had two legs again. After a short while, however, the prosthesis started falling apart, piece after piece.

Every day, he had to repair it, using whatever piece of equipment and tool he could find. Thanks to the strength, patience, and friendship of the locals, Fabrizio kept surfing the biggest and most absurd spots in the region. He was falling countless times, but he lived many moments of magic.

Meeting a little angel

There, in Bali, Fabrizio met many special people, including his friend darma (boss), “The Legend”, who, along with his girlfriend and other incredible people gave him enormous support day after day. And he met Wafi, another little angel, the child who quickly became very close to his heart. Wafi had had an accident leaving severe burns on both of his legs, one of them being in critical condition.

By then, Fabrizio was a part of the family, and he did what he could to save his legs and help Wafi stand and walk again. He started raising funds for Wafi to undergo treatments the family could not afford. Many people joined Fabrizio’s efforts, and things started improving for Wafi, but the way was still long before he could walk again. In exchange, Wafi and his family gave Fabrizio a lot of strength to keep on fighting for his dream to go back to the water.

Fabrizio is now working to find a sponsor to support him in this new challenge. He wants to be able to train regularly and show that he can get back on that board and feel that magic. For him, Filippo, for his new family, and for those who, like him, have encountered hurdles that at first seemed impossible to overcome, it is priceless.

Passion for the waves

Fabrizio is glad to welcome everyone to “Stand. Walk. Surf. Repeat.!”, a blog he created to share his story, his love for surfing and the waves, and to tell the story of little Wafi, an Indonesian kid, Fabrizio is very close to, whom he is trying to help recover and walk again.

Fabrizio keeps fighting to get back on the surfboard, as he used to before his accident. His passion for the waves has not decreased a bit. It is his lifelong love, giving him motivation, inspiration, and courage, and filling Fabrizio with optimism.

This passion has actually given him the strength to accept the challenges. In his blog, Fabrizio tells people what it means to have a disability from an athlete’s perspective: from the search for a lab able to build a prosthetic leg suitable for surfing to the lack of adequate infrastructures and the solidarity of other surfers with similar impairments.

Fabrizio hopes to keep raising public awareness while creating a space for support to those who, like him, want to return to regular sporting life. He wishes to help others to improve their opportunities to achieve their goals.

We are glad and honored to spread out his word on this topic.

Invitation

Fabrizio invites us and the readers to follow the updates and progress of his battle and Wafi’s quest. They will never give up.

“For many years, I lost the ability to surf, and it’s my whole life,” the adaptive surfer, Fabrizio Passetti says, “Now that I’ve found it, I don’t want to lose it.”

We are glad to shine a light on this athlete and the work he is doing for himself and others in a similar situation. Fabrizio’s story is an inspiration to people from around the globe.

From protecting the environment to mentoring disadvantaged children and advocating for disability rights, Athletes for Good recipients are true role models – making a difference in the lives of others, both on and off the field of play.

 

Fabrizio Passetti a professional surfer, by Severino Ricci

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You might also be interested in: Slade Prestwich, an impressive young international surfer, Stefano Esposito has managed to ride a wave of success outside of the ocean, Matthew Berry, Pursuing My Passion

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