Death was but a few moments from Pete Statti as he lay face down in the water in Huntington Beach three months ago when he experienced a life-altering surfing accident.
Angels must’ve been watching over him, he now thinks, as a fellow surfer turned him over which helped him to regain air.
Approaching so close to non-existence, but surviving, has been a cause for such a positive attitude now amid pain from rehabilitation to overcome back injuries.
In addition, the USC Trojans, of the Costa Mesa National Little League Farm Division, have been a source of strength. The team includes his 6-year-old son Gavin, who loves baseball just as he much he does playing video games on his XBox.
The past three months have been challenging for Gavin, who had played catch with his father countless times before the injury.
Now there’s emotional pain from the denial of the simple game.
However, there is hope and that’s something Statti exudes. The 48-year-old man gains motivation from Gavin and the Trojans.
“I just want to play ball with my kid. That’s the thing I miss,” Statti, a Costa Mesa resident, said Wednesday. “I like to go to their games. It’s my son’s Little League team. I enjoy going there. When I first got hurt, that’s all I looked forward to.”
Gavin and his buddies have also gained inspiration from Statti. Statti’s support has helped the Trojans pull off stunning wins and now they find themselves in the league’s championship game Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at TeWinkle Intermediate.
If they win, they’ll be champions. Lose, and they’ll have one more shot on Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats.
Statti, who was a coach and volunteer who prepared the field, has advice for his favorite Farm Division team.
“Just play hard, stay focused and have fun,” Statti said. “You know, if you lose, it’s not the end of the world. Win or lose it’s about how you play the game.”
Fun could be a fleeting thought given the reality of Statti’s situation. He takes pride from moving beyond the dependence of a wheelchair to a walker. Soon, he expects more strength to use a cane instead.
He does his best to give his best effort during each rehab session three times a week in Long Beach.
“It’s like a slow crawl,” Statti said of his rehab. “I’m getting a little stronger and better every day. I’m slowly making gains.”
The Trojans and the players’ parents have noticed Statti’s positive attitude in the face of adversity.
Jason De La O, the Trojans manager, admires Statti’s spirit and will. De La O enjoys teaching the kids lessons from baseball. Sometimes examples come away from the diamond too.
“It was tough on the team,” De La O said referring to Statti’s surfing accident. “But it has also pulled us together. [Statti] has been so positive.”
Statti hasn’t wanted any part of negative thoughts since the surfing accident. His life seems like it will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean it will be bad.
“You really can’t look at it any other way unless you want to be in a wheelchair your whole life,” Statti said of his positive approach. “I’ve been working as hard as I can to get back on my feet.
“Life rolls on.”
Statti had been an avid surfer. When he saw a window of opportunity to ride some waves during the morning of his son’s Opening Day in March he took it.
Statti ended up face down in the water for about a minute, after he pearled while riding a wave, that caused him to be tossed underwater and he hit the top of his head on a sand bar, according to a report in the Huntington Beach Independent.
Pearling is when the nose of the surfboard digs underneath the water causing the surfer to fall over the front of the board.
“It was definitely a near-death experience,” said Statti, who had worked as an independent paint contractor. “I was very lucky that [16-year-old Conner Reeves] was there to flip me over and save me. I only had a few seconds left before he flipped me over. I’m very lucky.”
Still, Statti was left with severe back injuries. There was damage to his spinal cord, his wife, Michelle said. Two rods, about five inches long, were inserted near Statti’s neck.
There needed to be room for the spinal cord to expand, Michelle said. Emergency surgery took place after the accident to alleviate pressure. The longer it took for surgery the greater chance the damage would be permanent.
Michelle doesn’t enjoy talking about the day of the accident. She talks of fear when she received a call of her husband’s status and then helplessness when she saw her husband immobile in his hospital bed.
“It was really hard,” she said.
However, Michelle has seen her husband improve with the help of the community and the Trojans.
“He is really motivated and really positive,” Michelle said of her husband. “He has a drive that is unbelievable. He says that he’s going to overcome this. He just tries hard. Every therapy he tries 100 percent. He has a good spirit. He doesn’t complain.”
Statti and his family said they are grateful from the outpouring of community support since the accident.
There was the fundraiser at Patrick’s Pub in Costa Mesa in late March, and Statti’s birthday/Cinco de Mayo celebration at Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach that helped with the medical bills.
“The community has been unbelievable,” Michelle said. “Everyone has come together. It’s been amazing. We couldn’t ask for a better community.”
Said Statti: “The community has been great. Everyone has stood up, my friends and family, people I don’t know, clients of mine and all kinds of people have helped. I’ve been really blessed.”
The support and love have also come from Costa Mesa National Little League and the Trojans.
The team enjoys playing for Statti and producing any sort of magic during games.
Last week, the Trojans rallied from a 15-6 deficit to win, 20-19, against Arizona in the first round. It’s the reason they only need one win to capture the championship.
They’re wanting to provide another great moment to such a memorable, yet challenging season.
Statti and De La O will tell them their effort will be more than enough.