Salih Kardoosh was paralyzed four years ago after he was shot by a sniper in Syria. The last place he expected to end up was surfing at a Nova Scotia beach.
This summer, he travelled with his family to Martinique Beach as part of the event They Will Surf Again.
The program, run by Life Rolls On, helps people with spinal injuries to feel the freedom and mobility of riding the waves.
Trip to beach was exciting
Kardoosh was shot in the spine while fleeing Deir ez-Zor with his wife and two children. The family arrived in Halifax in May 2016, and he is being treated at the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre.
Kardoosh said he was most excited about bringing his family to his surfing adventure. His injury makes it challenging to take his children on outings.
"They were very excited to go," he told CBC News through an interpreter. "They didn't expect [I] was going into the ocean."
Feeling of freedom
Volunteers helped Kardoosh reach the water's edge.
"There were people from my left and right, helping to push me into the water," he said.
Then came a feeling of freedom for the former swimmer. Once on his surfboard, Kardoosh was able to flip himself into the ocean. He said he "wanted to feel the water" and travelled out about 300 metres into the ocean.
The water was freezing and rough, but it brought back warm memories of the Mediterranean Sea, which brought a mixture of feelings. "Very sad," because he remembered past days, but "very happy to be here."
Regaining some mobility
In Syria, Kardoosh had his "own car, own home, own business. All of a sudden, everything disappeared," he said. He was a farmer, transporting fruit and vegetables from Deir ez-Zor to Damascus.
"After my injury, I forgot about everything and I'm focusing on trying to get better."
Kardoosh said he has been amazed by the level of care he is receiving and is regaining some mobility.
"I wasn't able to move at the beginning, but I'm able to move my hands and get from my chair to my bed, and my bed to my chair," he said.