Saturday's Surf Contest Will Raise Awareness about Lyme Disease

Saturday morning, the Second Annual 'Tick Off' Surf Contest will raise money and awareness for Lyme disease.

 Pleasure Point will be alive with the Second Annual "Tick Off" Surf Contest, open to surfers of all ages, from groms to grannies, Saturday. 

Created by local surfer Neal Kearny, who was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme disease in February of 2011, the contest will raise money for the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, the Sheriff's Activity League, and Kearny's own hefty medical expenses which include hip surgery last year.

The contest starts bright and early on Saturday, at 7 a.m., and will include a pancake breakfast, Pleasure Pizza lunch, and raffle prizes from wet suits to skate boards, to jewelry to surf boards.

Last year's contest at 26th Avenue drew around 100 spectators and competitors, and this year's event is being met with equal enthusiasm and support from the local surfing community. 

Once a pro surfer himself, the now 27-year-old Kearny first began experiencing the symptoms of Lyme disease when he was around 19 years old. As the disease went undiagnosed for six years, it progressed to the point where he was unable to surf.

"On March 14, 2005 I suffered a debilitating back spasm at a surf contest in San Diego, and began to experience intense lower back pain consistently thereafter. The pain, swelling, and inflammation began to spread through my pelvis, hips, knees, wrists, shoulders and neck," wrote Kearny last year. 

In 2009, Kearny was misdiagnosed by specialists at UC San Francisco and Stanford with Ankylosing Spondilitis, a painful, yet treatable inflammatory disease. 

"I was treating myself for something I didn't have, and I was injecting myself with biologic steroids that were suppressing my immune system," said Kearny of the misdiagnosis. 

It wasn't until March of 2011 that Kearny was diagnosed with Lyme disease by Osteopth Warren Klausner, and put on a rigid diet of antibiotics and homeopathic drugs.

"It was a bummer, you know, you put your trust in the medical system, and I don't really think anyone had any bad intentions, I think that people are just kind of look through their lenses, so you see a certain doctor and they want to help you and treat you but I think especially for these autoimmune diseases there's a lot of gray area about diagnosing," said Kearny.

Tick Off is his effort to be anything but ticked-off; to simply enjoy life and being in the ocean with his friends.

"At first I wanted to blame someone, but I gotta stay positive and I gotta push those kinds of thoughts away and just move forward ... basically keep my mind open to the possibilities of doing better," said Kearny.

He also wants to spread the word about the prevalence of Lyme disease in Santa Cruz County. The disease, with its characteristic bull's eye rash, was first identified in Connecticut in 1975, and by 1978 had spread to California.

According to a recent study in the Journal of Medical Entomology, ticks carrying Lyme disease are more prevalent in Santa Cruz County than in five geographically similar counties.

"I never had any bite or rash, my family we know about Lyme disease, we're hikers and mountain people, but the medical community, no one mentioned it. Even when i mentioned it to my doctor of 27 years, he rolled his eyes," said Kearny. 

The Tick Off Surf Contest is at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27 on Pleasure Point. For more information on Lyme disease in Santa Cruz County, check out the Lyme disease in Santa Cruz County Support Facebook page!


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