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Sean Reyngoudt: From Tragedy to Terrific

Image 1 - Just six months after his first competition Reyngoudt was introduced by friends to kiteboarding, and has been hooked ever since. Photos courtesy of UpDown Productions

Just six months after his first competition Reyngoudt was introduced by friends to kiteboarding, and has been hooked ever since. Photos courtesy of UpDown Productions

Image 2 - Here I come ...

Here I come ...

Image 3 - Reyngoudt said he was diving and spear-fishing before he was walking again, after the accident. Pictured here, he cruises the deep with a sailfish.

Reyngoudt said he was diving and spear-fishing before he was walking again, after the accident. Pictured here, he cruises the deep with a sailfish.

Image 4 - High and dry above the backcountry flats of the Florida Keys ...

High and dry above the backcountry flats of the Florida Keys ...

Image 5 - Showing off with a few tricks for the ladies ...

Showing off with a few tricks for the ladies ...

By Christina Baez

FLORIDA KEYS — When Sean Reyngoudt lost his leg at age 19, he never imagined the tragedy would result in his becoming a professional extreme sports athlete.

"I was always fascinated with board sports but I wasn't really that great at them before I lost my leg," Reyngoudt said. "Once I lost my leg I really wanted to prove to other people, and mostly to myself, that I could do anything I wanted."

Today, he is the world's only professional amputee kiteboarder and wakeboarder.

Reyngoudt emigrated from Switzerland to Summerland Key with his family when he was a year old. Growing up as a Keys kid, he spent his life on the water spear-fishing, wake boarding, surfing and diving frequently.

A natural athlete, he attended Key West High School and ran track and cross-country, breaking two school records for the mile and 800-meter races. He was unsure about whether he wanted to go away for college, so he took a job at a local fish market.

In 2003, Reyngoudt lost his left leg below the knee in a forklift accident while working at a local seafood market. Following the accident he spent 13 days in the hospital, three months in a wheelchair and about 10 months on crutches.

"After I lost my leg I was really depressed," Reyngoudt said. "I didn't know what to do with my life because I was so active before the accident and I didn't think I would be able to do everything I used to do."

His frustrations and struggles continued for about a year while he battled with his insurance company to get a proper prosthesis. In that year, his friends and family were by his side encouraging him to become the active person he had been before the accident.

Like a true Keys denizen, he took to the water.

"After the accident, I was actually diving and spear-fishing before I was walking again," Reyngoudt said.

He was left on crutches until his mother called "Help Me Howard," a recurring segment on a South Florida television news program that addresses injustices faced by local residents. After being contacted by the news station, Reyngoudt's insurance company agreed to pay for the latest prosthetic technology at Arthur Finnieston Prosthetics + Orthotics. Within three hours, he literally ran out of the company's office.

In 2006 Reyngoudt hit the competitive wakeboarding scene with a big splash, taking home first place at the inaugural Extremity Games, a title he held for three consecutive years. Just six months after his first competition he was introduced by friends to kiteboarding, and has been hooked ever since.

"It's been a long hard road with a lot of falls and down points where I didn't feel like getting up because I wasn't getting anything out of it, but I stayed with it," Reyngoudt said. "Once I started winning a few competitions, I knew nothing could stop me."

Reyngoudt particularly enjoys long-distance kiteboarding competitions. His proudest win was the Kitetricity Kiteboarding 2009 Central Florida Open Ocean DownWinder, a 60-mile race from Cocoa Beach to Vero Beach that he completed in two hours and 18 minutes.

As well as his own triumphs, he's introducing kiteboarding to millions of able-bodied and amputee thrill-seekers across the country as the co-host of Discovery HD Theater's "Catchin Air," the first cable television series dedicated to the sport of kiteboarding. The show's first episode was filmed in the Keys.

Reyngoudt's past year has included a whirlwind of travel for competitions, filming for his television show and, most notably, work with other amputees. He frequently speaks at prosthetic conferences on behalf of his sponsors, sharing his story with doctors and amputees across the nation.

Looking back to his days just after his accident, Reyngoudt wishes he'd had the opportunity to speak with another amputee for guidance and inspiration at a time when he had little hope.

His greatest aspiration in life is to inspire and teach other amputees. In fact, he began his work with them after the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster by sharing words of encouragement with the first amputee flown to the United States.

Although he travels constantly, Reyngoudt still calls the Keys home. Now a certified kiteboarding instructor, he hopes to share his passion for the sport with other amputees — and offer goals for them to work toward by breaking world records.

Website: www.seanreyngoudt.com

Posted On: March 3, 2011

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