Ashtan Davids is a charming and smart eighteen-year-old from Muizenberg. He has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Despite these challenges, he is doing a lot of fascinating and inspirational things!
What is epilepsy? It is formally described as a chronic disorder which is characterised by recurrent and unprovoked seizures. Many epileptic people are vulnerable to other neurological problems as well. Epilepsy is said to be the fourth most common neurological disorder which affects people of all ages and is characterised by unpredictable seizures that can cause other health problems.
Children who are epileptic face many daily difficulties. They are commonly isolated from the greater world and often held back from fulfilling their personal goals due to family over-protectiveness.
Ashtan’s sister, Megan Cross, says that, in contrast to many other similar children who become prisoners in their own homes, his family was motivated by the lack of recreational facilities for kids like Ashtan to create such opportunities for him. “The goal has always been happiness. Everyone deserves to be happy,” says Megan.
According to her, Ashtan went through a ‘complicated’ birth. He was said to have reached his full academic potential at around eleven, he experienced the onset of epilepsy when he was only fifteen. He was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Megan expresses that it’s all thanks to their mother who, despite Ashtan’s condition, always maintained a firm grip and made sure that he was exposed to the same opportunities as ‘normal’ kids. Ashtan was raised no different to other children and was encouraged and supported in his pursuit of his passions – surfing above all.
His inspiration and motivation for surfing is owing to his older ‘semi-pro’ brother, plus it is, ‘of course’ , a part of Muizenberg beach culture. “From an early age surfing has always been a huge part of Ashtan’s life,” Megan says, while acknowledging that it is through hard work and enough physio that they were able to make it a reality for him.
Ashtan is also is also a Latin and ballroom dancer. He won third place in the FEDANSA SA Championships in the under-18 category and also came first place at FEDANSA WP Championships in 2014.
Despite his condition, his family has never cut him any slack says Megan. They believe in challenging his abilities and motivating him to push himself to become better and better.
All of his efforts have earned Ashtan a trip to America in August to compete in trials for the World Adaptive Surfing Championships in Los Angeles. Ashtan was classified ‘assist prone’, which meant he is allowed to have one assistant in the water with him, while he is ‘prone’, that is, before he stands to surf the wave. He requires this help to get to the back line. He then does his own indicating, showing which wave he’d like to take, and surfs the wave himself.
Megan says that, “He only requires assistance to climb in and out of the water, get to the back line, and from then on he understands how the waves operate in respect to the wind.”
Ashtan’s surfing career lifted off about two years ago, which is when he began surfing competitively; prior to that, he surfed only for pleasure. Apparently, he would play for hours in the sand when he was very young and was always fascinated with the ocean itself. Today, as an eighteen-year-old, Ashton is proud to call himself a surfer.
Ashtan’s condition inspired his sister Megan and a group of her friends, together with Ashtan, to start the ‘Believe in Schatzi’ organisation – ‘Schatzi’ being Ashtan’s nickname. Their organisation works with a variety of special needs children whom they motivate and inspire while introducing them to adaptive surfing. Megan, the organisation’s treasurer, says it all started as a Christmas idea in 2014.
After a slow start, due to none of them having any form of business knowledge, the organisation has recently gained a lot of momentum thanks to kind help and volunteers from the Muizenberg community. Many assist with occupational and physiotherapy, psychology and a variety of other people cater for the distinctive characteristics of the children.
In January 2015, Believe in Schatzi received their official accreditation and documents. Since then they have initiated a number of projects, including the ‘Smile and Wave’ programme which introduces young special needs children to adaptive surfing.
Their organisation hosts open days, usually on the first Saturday of every month, welcoming all young people, irrespective of ability or disability. They have also created a ‘beach buggy’ and a separate surfboard that has been adapted to Ashtan’s ability!
Ashtan is a light and inspiration to a lot of other special need children, and those that care for them, to pursue their dreams.
“I imagine the world to have no prisoners, to have universal accessibility everywhere, to have acceptance, inclusion, and for everyone to accept and embrace everyone’s ability in life,” says his equally inspiring sister, Megan.
Their vision and commitment to those with special needs is a warm embrace in a community which commonly only knows loneliness and exclusion.
“We can make the world a better place if only we put in the effort to make it what we want it to be,” says Megan Cross.