For Michael Pullman, the world was an adventure waiting to be explored. As an Academic All-American at Emory University in 1993, he held the key to a promising future of opportunity and freedom—until he suffered a traumatic brain injury in an ATV accident at age 20. Although doctors never thought he’d make it out alive, Pullman emerged from a coma nine months later, no longer able to walk or talk.
Pullman, 38, now lives in Galveston at Tideway, a supported living facility for individuals with acquired brain injuries, which operates through the Transitional Learning Center.
On Sept. 10, Pullman and hundreds of others who share similar stories participated in the 21st annual Adaptive Water Sports Festival for Individuals with Special Needs at Moody Gardens. As part of the property’s Hope Therapy initiative, the Adaptive Water Sports Festival provides survivors of traumatic brain injury and other disabilities the opportunity to water ski, sail, kayak and get physically active in ways that once seemed impossible.
“For people who can’t walk to be able to water ski or sail—it’s really incredible,” said Pullman’s father, Richard.
Richard said his family enjoys the Adaptive Water Sports Festival every year, but that he believes the event is more than a day at the beach.
He said in the 15 years his son has been participating in Hope Therapy events at Moody Gardens, friends and family have noticed tremendous improvements in Pullman’s response time and self confidence. Richard attributes that progress to the physical and mental stimulation people with special needs encounter while trying new things.
“Michael is our miracle, and he loves being a part of this,” Richard said. “He looks forward to it every year, but it’s not just Michael. Every kid out there has a giant smile on their face. It’s a great program.”
Baytown native Wes Webb agrees the Adaptive Water Sports Festival is essential in giving people with disabilities the opportunity to live life in new ways.
Webb, 30, was injured in a skydiving accident in 2010 when his parachute malfunctioned. As he hit the ground going about 50 miles per hour, both of his ankles “exploded” and his right femur broke.
After 11 surgeries and nearly one month in the hospital, Webb developed an infection in his left foot. The antibiotics took a toll on Webb’s body, and when he realized the infection wasn’t healing, he asked his doctor to amputate his left foot so he could wear a prosthetic. Despite initial hesitation to perform the surgery, Webb’s doctor agreed.
“Within a few weeks, my prosthetic was outperforming what was left of my right foot, so I asked them to amputate my right foot. I kept pushing and pushing because I knew prosthetics would give me a better quality of life,” Webb said.
It wasn’t long before his adventurous spirit was again supported his legs. In June 2011, just 14 months after his double amputation, Webb won second place in the novice division for wake boarding at the Extremity Games, an annual competition for athletes with disabilities.
Webb will be at Moody Gardens for the Adaptive Water Sports Festival to give wake boarding demonstrations and show other participants the power of determination.
“I’ve always had something extreme in me that keeps me busy and sane. Learning to wakeboard with prosthetics was rough for a while but I kept trying and trying,” said Webb. “We can do anything others can do, we just have to do it differently.”
Moody Gardens held the Adaptive Water Sports Festival for Individuals with Special Needs on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Palm Beach. Admission to the event is free to all individuals with special needs as well as their caregivers and immediate families. Extended families and friends can attend with the purchase of a regular admission to Palm Beach.
Individuals who wish to attend do not need to register or R.S.V.P, as participation will be on a first-come, first-served basis. For future event information or volunteer registration, please contact Moody Gardens at 800-582-4673, ext. 4108.