"It felt like Christmas Day" - Kathleen's amazing experience
IMAGINE sitting at a small table in a crowded restaurant with a group of close friends.
The room is buzzing from the sound of everyone deep in conversation, a cup of tea sits in front of you on the table alongside an assortment of biscuits and other various nibblies.
You reach out and hold your tea, intending to sip and enjoy the taste of a well-earned social drink.
But instead of feeling the mug touch your lips, smelling the tea's aroma and tasting the delicious beverage, you look down to notice you've spilt the drink all over the table, your clothes and the floor.
Everyone's eyes are on you, but you can't describe what happened - you thought you were holding the mug.
That may sound like an outlandish experience you would pass off as a dream, but that is exactly what Kathleen Merciai has to live with every day.
Merciai, 55, has a range of conditions including epilep-sy and myalgic encephalo- myelitis - or chronic fatigue syndrome.
"I've had a few strokes as well," Merciai said.
"I had to teach myself to walk and talk again. It was a really hard struggle but I got there."
Merciai has lived with the conditions for her whole life, but took years before she accepted the issues.
"When I was younger I tried to hide it but it got it harder as I got older," Merciai said.
"I grew up in Engadine (near Sydney) and only moved up to Yamba recently.
"The strokes affected my balance so I can't ride a bike properly. I'm saving up money for a three-wheeled bike now so I can get out more often.
"I used to go out and surf before but haven't been out in a long time."
That all changed on Saturday morning at Yamba's Turners Beach.
A quick flick through The Daily Examiner Weekend Edition exposed Merciai to the Disabled Surfers Association event.
She could not resist the lure of the ocean, and afterwards felt she made the right choice.
"It felt like Christmas Day," an excited Merciai said.
"I can't explain it.
"I could barely sleep on Friday night and could barely eat breakfast on Saturday. I was so excited.
"Think about lying in a bed for three years dreaming of being outside again. That's what happened to me years ago.
"To be out on the water again was incredible."
She was one of 28 people from across the North Coast taking advantage of the event, with some travelling from as far away as Kyogle.
About 50 volunteers helped DSA Far North Coast branch president Paul Robberds run the event, which he said was a marvellous success.
"It was fantastic," Mr Robberds said.
"Seeing the smiles on their faces when they do something that a lot of others can't do. They're rapt.
"We do one at a different beach every month. Byron Bay is next and there's a big one at Kingscliff in a few weeks. The next local one is at Minnie Water in February."
Merciai intends to continue regaining confidence in her balance so she can surf again.
"There was a great mix of people.
"Not everyone can see my disability so I do get strange looks every now and again," Merciai said.
"I just had to think about how amazing it was."