PANAMA CITY, Fla. — He had waited his whole life to see the ocean.
On Sunday in Panama City Beach, Florida, David Thomas’ dream came true. Thanks to the generosity of his friends and a special beach wheelchair, Thomas, who was born with cerebral palsy, was able to feel sand between his toes and breathe in salty ocean air for the first time.
“I’ve never really seen anything like that before, because I never really go anywhere,” Thomas, 36, told CNN. “So, to just sit there and look at it with my own two eyes was something amazing.”
This was only the second time Thomas has ever left his home county of Jefferson, Alabama, and he says visiting the beach is a memory he will never forget.
“I’ve wanted to go to the beach for so many years, I’ve lost count,” Thomas said. “I thought I would never see the beach, but God made it possible.”
Hatching the plan
Thomas lives in Bessemer, a suburb of Birmingham in north-central Alabama. The nearest ocean beach is some 250 miles away — not an insurmountable distance, but not an easy journey for everyone.
Thomas’ childhood friend Izas Fuller says he got the idea to bring his friend to the ocean two years ago, when Thomas commented on a Facebook picture Fuller posted of him fishing at the beach.
“He made a comment like, ‘I wish I could have went with y’all,'” Fuller told CNN. “I thought about it and I said, ‘Man, I’m going to take you one day.'”
Friends for the better part of two decades, Fuller said he and Thomas are “basically like brothers” and that watching him see the ocean for the first time was an emotional and powerful experience.
“It is truly inspirational to be able to witness something like this,” Fuller said. “It’s a blessing to be able to be a blessing.”
The trip was made possible by community support. Fuller said some of his Facebook friends even helped pitch in to cover the cost of renting Thomas’ motorized beach wheelchair, which cost $170 for two days. When the rental company heard Thomas’ story, Fuller said it gave them two extra days with the wheelchair for free.
Thomas has spent the past few days on the beach, looking at the water and hanging out with friends. On Tuesday his friends used a bucket to pour beach sand on his feet so he could feel it between his toes.
“This is the best summer vacation ever in my life,” Thomas said in a video Fuller posted to Facebook.
Dreams for the future
Although Thomas and Fuller’s beach vacation ends Thursday, they are determined to make the most of it.
To add another to the list of firsts, the two friends planned to go deep-sea fishing on Wednesday, something Thomas said he was especially looking forward to.
Now that his dream of seeing the ocean has been fulfilled, Thomas says his next goal is to meet Steve Harvey, his favorite comedian. In the meantime, he has a message for other disabled people with big dreams.
“Just keep on believing and trusting in God and it will happen in due time,” Thomas said. “There’s no limit when you’ve got God in your life.”