What Are We & Why Are We Here????
Perhaps not the best title for my first post, but it's a good starting point to tell a little about myself and how I got here with the business I've created. I have been dealing with autoimmune issues since I was 17, but unfortunately, it took me until my late 20s to receive a proper diagnosis. This part of my life is important because I probably wouldn't have started Ortega Outdoors if it weren't for my struggles.
As a kid in high school, I loved basketball, swimming, and all board sports. I wasn't the best at them, but they brought me tons of joy. However, not long after graduating high school, my symptoms began to show. At first, it was just fatigue and some sinus inflammation, as well as feelings of "what's happening isn't normal." This progressed until I was fully bedridden at the age of 19, at the worst of my illness. It took everything from me – I could no longer drive, play guitar, or even walk from my bedroom to the kitchen to feed myself. I was left lying in bed in a massive amount of pain, unable to do anything, and this went on for three years. It was worse than any prison sentence I could imagine.
After those three years, it didn't mean I got cured or that I received a diagnosis. What happened was strictly by accident, I believe. I was given a diagnosis of Lyme disease and coinfections. I didn't have any positive tests or anything like that. It's just that Lyme covers so many symptoms that other diseases also have that it can fit just about any situation. But anyway, I was given some antimalarials that also happen to be what doctors use for certain autoimmune diseases. During my Lyme treatment, it was during the use of the antimalarials (and literally only while I was on those) that I had improvement. When they took me off of them, I would decline fast, no matter what other Lyme-related thing I was still on. But it was on these small bursts of slight normalcy that I would realize the joys I missed. Of course, I wasn't operating at 100 percent of my normal self, maybe like 50 percent or less, but still, I could work with that.
There were a few big things I would do in my closer-to-normal states. The first thing would be exercise – use it or lose it, right? Being bedridden left me about as weak as a paper bag, and my body weight very low. As symptoms would subside, I would try to regain a lot of that to get back to my healthy weight and normal size. This only ever lasted a few months at a time as meds would change around, but it did help. Other than that, I got really into cars. Something about losing the ability to drive made me realize that I took vehicles for granted. Though I probably let myself get too obsessed, when I was able to again, I just wanted to learn everything I could about them. My final two things were getting back into music and trying however I could to get into some kind of board sport.
I found love in one-wheels - you know, those single wheel, fat-tire skateboard-like devices. I realized that this is probably the closest I will ever get to snowboarding again. Whenever my symptoms aren't bad, riding my one-wheel is as close to feeling normal as I can get. I'm not saying this to make anyone feel bad for me, but I think it's important to understand my motivations for what I do.
When I was just a teenager, I lost a huge piece of myself, and from then until I was about 25, I wasn't really able to do the things I loved. Whether I was bedridden or undergoing various treatments, I was forced to grow up too fast in some ways while still feeling like the same teen kid I was in other ways. Now, as an adult in my 30s, I just don't understand why people take their lives for granted.
As I regained a certain level of functionality, I had certain expectations thrown at me by various people because of my age. Even though I missed out on all the years when others were partying or having the normal college experience or traveling, I was expected to just throw away the rest of my life, essentially: work my day job, support a wife who had been able to have those experiences that I missed out on, and just do that forever because at my age, I was just expected to only do grown-up things and leave all I had lost behind.
I decided that being at an age deemed "too adult" to have fun is a dumb way to live. I wanted to enjoy my life however I could, and I shouldn't have to feel selfish about it. Of course, I still have autoimmune issues, and life is expensive, so I wanted to find a way to make sure I always had the treatment I needed and could pay for it, while also getting to do and be around things I enjoyed (and hopefully help others find joy in those things as well).
Living in Florida, I decided that watersports were the best outlet for me. Wakeboarding is an amazing board sport when you have access to a body of water, and kayaking/paddleboarding is a great way to get outdoors and just enjoy the scenery, even when dealing with an autoimmune flare. I hope you guys will find joy in our journey as much as we do, whether it's getting a kayak rental or paddleboard rental, or even picking up a wakeboard or life vest on the way to the boat ramp.
I decided that getting older shouldn't have to mean always acting older every single day. So maybe we can all have a little fun and retain what little youth we still have, together.