- Meg McCall
Adaptive Kayaking from Start to Finish: One Family’s Experience
I first met Raymond Juballa and his mother, Rosanne Balla, in August of 2020 when they reached out to Angle Oar through our website to inquire about our adaptive paddling equipment.
Rosanne indicated they were doing preliminary research on what it would take to get Raymond, age 22 at the time, kayaking independently again. The family lives on a scenic, waterfront property and, prior to a life-altering accident one year earlier, Raymond was an avid kayaker, volunteer and all around active young man.
Rosanne had heard about our Versa Paddle and was seeking information on what other adaptive equipment might be required to meet Raymond’s specific needs. That initial inquiry kicked off a series of interactions between the family and Angle Oar staff that lasted a full eight months. This is the first in a series of seven blog posts that will describe, in detail, the major steps the Juballa family went through to get Raymond on the water again. Go to the end of this post to see other articles in the series, as they become available.
If there’s one thing that stands out about Raymond Juballa, it’s that he’s a “hands on” kind of guy. Whether it’s caring for animals as a part of his 10-year youth involvement in 4-H, teaching young people how to kayak safely, or designing new products with CAD, he likes to be active and involved.
This photo is of Raymond and his steer, named Moose. “He loved raising that steer and got up at the crack of dawn before school to tend to Moose, only to return after school to exercise, train, groom and feed him again,” explains Rosanne. Just this Spring, Raymond spent a week coaching youth how to groom their animals for the goat show at the local county fair!
To this day, he teaches healthy living and paddling skills to youth in 4-H. The group met several times throughout May and June, and Raymond taught them how to tie knots, make tow ropes with floats, create bracelet whistles, learn the ins and outs of using the paddle, fit PFDs and basic paddling. “It was awesome. The older ones towed the younger home on the last meeting,” reports Rosanne.
Soft spoken and amiable, you can see in Raymond’s eyes there’s a lot going on in that brain of his, even if he doesn’t say a word.
Raymond has a knack for anything mechanical. On any given day you can find him tinkering with a new design, some of which you can see on his Instagram account at @themissingelement.3d As one example, he used a Cricut cutter to create 3D masks to assist his sister for a play at their local high school. He's currently studying entrepreneurial business management at Menlo College to complement his interest in inventing. Before graduating in 2023, Raymond hopes to secure an internship with one of the big tech companies in the area.
His family, which includes his mother, Rosanne, father David Jew, and younger sister Ruby Juballa, lives in Foster City, California. Foster City is just south of San Francisco and features a series of winding waterways. Raymond spent a good portion of his young life enjoying the watersports that come along with living right on the water, including sailing, kayaking and swimming.
As Raymond puts it, summer of 2019 he was 21 years old and living his best life. He was enjoying a ranch hand job at Merced College and traveling home weekly – a 101 mile journey -- to continue serving 4-H youth and to be with his family. On July 11, 2019, the night before a youth paddling event, life abruptly changed when Raymond suffered a C-4,5 spinal cord injury and loss of sight in one eye in a roll-over car accident. His hospital stays spanned three hospitals over three months, half of which he spent on a ventilator.
After the hospital stays there were three months of rehab at home during which Raymond had to re-learn life’s daily routines while dealing with paralysis from the chest down and without use of his fingers, a condition commonly known as quadriplegia. Raymond, though now using a wheelchair, was determined to continue living his best life. He returned to college using a computer with adaptive controls just six months after his injury.
His ongoing outpatient rehab included wheelchair mobility training as well as water safety training in a pool, given his home’s proximity to the lagoon.
Raymond, a self-proclaimed introvert, was humbled by the social calendar required to manage his visitors and well-wishers when he regained consciousness. “I felt obligated to keep up the work ethic that I was known for and to live up to everyone's expectation for me to re-engage in life to the fullest,” says Raymond.
And, he has. Roughly a year-and-a-half later, returning to kayaking and teaching the 4-H youth is a bittersweet milestone in that reclamation journey.
Despite the devastation and hardship brought by Raymond’s accident, the family is grateful to have him and his positive outlook on life.