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A Q&A with Cameron Schwartzkopf

Cameron read his story 'Learning from Surfing with Epilepsy' in S3 E1 of the podcast. Here is the Q&A I had with Cameron back in December 2020.

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FRAN: You have obviously called a few different places home. Where are you currently based?

CAMERON: I’m close to Zurich at the moment for Christmas. But we've been living in California, a place where I grew up called Mammoth Lakes. It's about five hours north of LA, in the mountains, close to Yosemite National Park.

So you're not as close to the ocean as you sometimes are. How much surfing do you do these days?

As much as I have time for!

Are there any other adventure sports that you do when you're not able to get to the ocean and surf?

Yeah. I snowboard, I ski, I backcountry ski, I cycle. Just, you know, whatever is whatever the day is good for, I guess.

Hopefully you'll be able to do a little bit of that whilst you’re over in Switzerland for a few weeks!

Yeah. I'm hoping they don't close the ski resorts.

One of the questions that we always like to know, the famous question on Seize Your Adventure: what does adventure mean to you?

Yeah, I was thinking about that one day when I heard you ask somebody else on the podcast. It's a tough one. I think when I was younger, it would've been like getting out after whatever it is. Mountains, water, ocean, whatever. But now I kind of think it's more a thing of just being courageous and or brave in whatever situation you may be going through. And really trying to not back down when challenges come your way.

Of course, getting outside is what we all really liked to do! But we all know that's not everything life holds. Going on a hike or paddling out to a new surf spot you've never been to is, of course, an adventure. But that all has to do with being brave and courageous - If you're not sure how shallow or how deep it is, or how cold the water is, or how long your hike’s gonna be, or what avalanche danger they may be.

For me, that's really translated into life. I have an international marriage, and that can be really tricky. There’s always the confusion of “where shall we live?”. They are really great places and we have family and friends in both [Switzerland and America].

Of course with epilepsy it’s a major challenge. Anyone who has it knows. For me, it's a big thing to still live, you know? I have to say, “Hey, I got to go to bed” or “I can’t come tomorrow”. But when you're feeling well, then great - all systems go and you go for it!

For me, adventure is just really being the woman or the man that you're supposed to be in the situation you're in. Because it's easy to take the easy road - in life, in the mountains, on a bike, in water - but it's quite adventurous to step up and let your character and the positive side of yourself take over.

That is a really nice answer. And I think you are the first person that has said to be brave! What would you say is your most recent adventure?

We climbed a peak near my house the other day, just before we got on the aeroplane. Something that we look at every day, across the lake. And we didn't know quite how to get out there. We just jumped in the truck and followed some dirt roads that were in that general direction until we found a decent place to park. And then, we just kept following that road, hoping it was gonna get to the top of this little mountain. And we made it!

Something else I’ve been doing that kind of ties into that last answer I gave is, I started surfing with a lifejacket on. And in Southern California, it's hard to call surfing an adventure, because there's always 50 other people out in the water. But people look at you weird when you're wearing a life jacket when the water is waist high waves.

Then I found this guy that makes flotation wetsuits that are meant for people with a disability. And now I'm starting to work with him and trying to create a wetsuit that’s surf-friendly, and that, if they're unconscious and laying face down, it could roll you over on your back. So it could be for epileptics and or anyone that gets knocked unconscious in the water. It could be life saving, and very freeing for people that maybe have given up on water sports because of any conditions they may have.

That's incredible. If you can crack that, that would be life changing for so many people, I think.

Yeah, even just to swim, you know?

Moving on from that, would you say anything to somebody who's recently been diagnosed with epilepsy?

Oh, man, it’s so dependent on their mood and attitude at the time. If they were devastated and don't know how to continue, I could try but I would most likely let them do the talking.

That's lovely. Just listening to how someone's feeling, maybe that's all they need sometimes. A good thing to remember for all of us, I think.

I was listening to you and Jared Muscat one time, and he was just kind of driving home the point that nobody that doesn't have epilepsy knows what you are going through as a person with a seizure disorder. I think that's the direction I would go - Look, I know what this is. All of us that are fighting against this are hoping for a better future for ourselves. We can go after it together. There is a community out there that's willing to talk about it, and knows the struggles you're going through, and the fear and anxiety.

And no, I mean, you know how it is when you get diagnosed. It freaks you out, you don't know how to continue. And, to clarify my answer, I’d say “I understand. It’s not the end of the world. As terrible as it is, we can continue on from that point of diagnosis”.

So obviously you've listened to Seize Your Adventure. Are there any other podcasts that you would recommend to readers and listeners?

There are some that I like, but not necessarily the adventure ones. I went through a time of running triathlons and things like that. And I'm kind of a person that tends to get into something and really overdue it. To me, the podcasts that I hear about getting out in the mountains or in nature, they're all about pushing so hard and they seem kind of forceful. That's just quick judgments from hearing a couple minutes of a podcast. I don't want to throw anybody under the bus!

I think we need more adventure podcasts that are a bit more inclusive and more about enjoyment, rather than “further, faster” and that kind of thing.

Exactly. And that's a safety aspect of it for people that are dealing with the condition we have and I think health in general. I mean, I've hammered my body and it just doesn't feel good. I mean, I'm not old, I'm 37, but I can feel stuff more due to things I've done in the past. It’ more for the fun of it, rather than I'm not gonna set any world records or anything

But for podcasts, I do listen to The Mindset Mentor. It's just really helpful stuff for common, everyday life. It can really apply to anybody's life. The title sort of says it all. He really helps you try to find power within yourself, within your own mind. Your mindset, positivity, gratitude, all that stuff. So that's great. There is another funny podcast called Fish Out of Water. It’s two people from Canada, and they also have epilepsy and are pretty comical about it. It's just a good one to listen to. Like I said, people that know what you're going through and that can make light of it. They could be serious about that. They're not doctors, but they're just trying to help people that have epilepsy or a seizure disorder get through life basically. And they do it well. They're funny.

Thank you for reminding me of that one, I haven’t listened to it for ages! Is there anything else that you would like readers and listeners to know?

I want everyone to know, whoever is going through a seizure disorder, disability, sickness, COVID… even an addiction, and obviously many disabilities are invisible. Everyone refers to epilepsy as an invisible sickness. I would like people that have any of these visible or invisible challenges and sicknesses, to just stay hopeful. I know how hard it is. It's so hard. It's ridiculously hard to stay hopeful for healing, or not being lonely, or whatever it is. But all those clichés like “keep your head up” and all that stuff - they're not just clichés, they’re there for a reason, they come from something. The only chance we have is hope and gratitude from things we still do have.

Whoever hears my story about what I was going through a few years ago - every moment I have now is just a pure gift. And it’s a miracle that I'm number one - not dead. Number two - not brain dead. And number three - not severely disabled after drowning and the lack of oxygen for so long.

I would love to just feel like anything's possible. But I know that there are such tragic stories out there. I don't wanna be that guy saying something foolish in the face of what terrible things people are dealing with. But, I guess... just hope. And talking to your family or those that are closest to you.

And finally, in communities, like Seize Your Adventure. They’re invaluable. This podcast and talking, texting often with Jared Muscat, opening up to the guys I surf with, and skate and snowboard with who don't have epilepsy, but they know my situation. Even that is really freeing. A lot of these things, these challenges, they can eat you up from the inside out. Just like keeping a secret or whatever. And my belief is that it's got to come out.

And it's scary, to be honest, but it's very worth it.

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