Sarah's Story

Sarah Stilgenbauer

If you drive along Cleveland’s shore on some days this winter, you might spot wet-suited paddle boarders and surfers – perhaps near Lorain, Edgewater Park or Mentor Headlands.

Surfing in Cleveland, and in winter?

Yes, says Sarah Stilgenbauer, who lives in Lakewood and paddle surfs year-round in Northeast Ohio. Winter months bring higher waves.

A Passion for Paddle Surfing

Paddle surfing has become a passion of Sarah’s and has often been a pure source of stress relief, especially as she has been a caregiver to her dad, and now her mom, while working full-time at University Hospitals as a grant writer.

After never considering herself athletic, she took on her new sport at 37. But as her caregiving amped up, Sarah had less time to work out or paddleboard.

Over one year, she lost muscle mass, gained some weight and soon stress and pain landed in her left hip (though it was her knee that really hurt and eventually swelled to grapefruit size.) She feared she might lose the hobby that gave her so much joy.

The Beginning of Healing

But then she met Jane Smith, a massotherapist with UH Connor Integrative Health Network, who urged her to check out its chiropractic treatment.

“That turned out to be the beginning of my healing,” Sarah says. “While I knew the power of massage, I had been a skeptic when it came to chiropractic and acupuncture, but not anymore.

“My chronic pain could have led me down a far different path that would have relied on pharmaceutical use, and I’m so grateful it never came to that.”

Chiropractor Dr. Sarah Prosak discerned that Sarah’s pain did indeed emanate from her hip, and she began seeing her weekly, and then monthly (chiropractic treatment is now covered by most commercial insurers and by UH insurance.) Sarah also began massotherapy with Carlos Gonzalez, also at UH Connor and followed that up with acupuncture by Megan Quesada.

“At my first session with Megan she really managed to tap into the emotions and frustrations I’ve been carrying around for so long,” Sarah says. “She managed to find a point on my hip that released the tension in my connective tissue – and I just started crying. It wasn’t from pain or sadness, but almost immediately, I felt like I did before I took on all the stresses of elder care.

“Had I known what acupuncture would do for my pain, I would have started it much sooner.”

Paddle Surfing Again

One year after her treatment began, her pain and immobility had dissipated. “Everything started to resolve,” she says, and she was paddle surfing again. “My range of motion increased exponentially.”

She re-engaged in the sport that caught her attention in an unusual way.

“In 2013, I was riding my bike and I saw a van with two big surfboards on it,” she says. “I followed them and asked the drivers about it.” They were with a West Side paddle board shop.

Sarah began by paddle boarding on the Rocky River, and ended up selling her bike so she could buy a paddle board. Then she met someone who kite-surfed and got even more hooked on this iteration of the sport, building up her skill to riding chest-high waves. She had already developed a strong core by paddle boarding. In fact, she believes it was that strength that has saved her from back injuries.

Surfing on a paddleboard can be easier than surfing on a long board, she explains.

“The paddleboard makes a sport accessible to me that would otherwise be inaccessible,” she says. Since then, she’s paddle surfed in Nicaragua and Hawaii and plans to travel to other surfing destinations in upcoming months.

“Every time I go out at Edgewater," she says, "I am grateful for the work of the staff at Connor and their ability to give me the gift of being back in a body that does what I want it to.”