Flagler Beach, FL – It was an unthinkable accident while doing practice drills that landed 17-year old Caleb Struble in long-term recovery and care for fractures to the vertebrae in his neck on July 19th. But the community he serves as a member of the Flagler Beach Ocean Rescue team, is standing strong behind the young man.
While Caleb works his way through daily therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia with his family, parents Mike and Betty and younger brother Byron there to cheer him on, the community has rallied to keep him in good spirits, as well.
From fundraisers to events, there’s been no shortage of support for his journey back to wellness, and on Saturday, anglers from around the region headed to the Flagler Beach Pier where Caleb was stationed as a lifeguard to try their luck in a fishing tournament, all to benefit the Struble family.
Organizer Roy Mattson, current owner of Roy’s Bait & Seafood and Fishing Guide Service in New Smyrna Beach, and former owner of the Flagler Beach Pier’s bait shop, pulled together the fishing tournament and a myriad of stellar raffle prizes from more than 50 businesses across Flagler County and the surrounding communities, to raise more than $2,000 in a few short hours.
“I’ve worked in public service all my life and we all stick together,” said Mattson. “It’s a brotherhood of police, fire, EMS, all public service providers and lifeguards are part of that group. When one of us gets hurt somebody has to step up to the plate and here was my opportunity to do it.”
Gusty northeast winds kept catches light, but anglers were undeterred. At the end of the tournament Flagler County’s Miguel Archundia took home the top prize with a one pound ladyfish as his catch.
“We still have probably 75 fishermen on the pier trying and we’ve got people coming up buying raffle tickets and supporting the family in every way,” said Mattson. “Everybody in the community has come out to help in every way possible.”
On hand to live-stream the event so Caleb and his family could watch remotely, Beth Boyles a close family friend of the Struble family, was enthusiastic about the generosity of those who have never met Caleb, but are willing to help.
“I am literally blown away. I was just telling Caleb’s mom Betty that it just makes my heart so full to see the love and support, and it’s the same with them. I talk to them and we’re just blown away by how many wonderful people are out there,” she said.
Boyles provides frequent updates to the community on Caleb’s progress through the Flagler Beach for Friends Facebook page which has included major milestones like the removal of his neck brace after 8 weeks and small movements in his hands.
“Caleb is just a one-in-a-million. They just don’t make them like him, he’s amazing,” gushed Boyles. “He’s a very strong-willed young man and has a great attitude, and that’s why we know he’s going to make a full recovery,” she said. “We’re really, really hopeful for him.”
Facilitating the GoFundMe page, Boyles says over $20,000 has been raised to help the Struble family. Cash/check donations are also being managed by the Flagler Strong 501c3 and go directly to the family while they put life on hiatus and focus their full attention on Caleb’s recovery.
“We’re trying to raise money for daily expenses because mom and dad are not able to work right now. We know that he’s going to be there at least until November, and that could be extended. We know he’s going to have intense therapy when he gets to come home, so it’s going to be a really long journey for the family,” said Boyles, who says home renovations will also be among the family’s future needs.
Flagler Beach Recreation Director Tom Gillin watched in awe on Saturday, continually struck by the kindness of the community he serves, to help one of their own.
“The response has been amazing. The lifeguard community, the Flagler Beach community, the outside community. We’ve got other lifeguard agencies – Volusia, St. Johns, Duval, being supportive. The whole fishing community – there’s a bucket up there and even though they’re not in the tournament, they’re throwing in 20’s and 100 dollar bills. It’s amazing and heartwarming,” said Gillin.
“We’re always talking about division and people are strong with their opinions one way or another. This goes to show that above and beyond that, we’re all one Flagler family here.”
Gillin says it’s been Caleb’s sunny personality and genuine kindness that has touched more hearts and lives with his story, and his determination is an inspiration to his teammates and the community as a whole.
“If attitude, age and energy is going to help on his behalf, he’s going to do alright and get through this,” said Gillin with optimism. “He’s just a super kid with something nice and positive every day he comes in here. Everyone says the same thing. He brightens up everybody and that positivity is contagious.”
A fundraiser is planned at Tortugas Florida Kitchen Bar & Grill this October. To lend a hand, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/caleb-struble-fb-lifeguard-recovery-journey
To send Caleb a card:
c/o Shepherd Center
2020 Peachtree Rd. NW
Atlanta, GA. 30309