One day, maybe three years ago, a kid cruised into the skate shop I managed in one of the most high-tech wheelchairs I’ve ever seen. Since he was obviously handicapped and not more than twelve years old, I couldn’t believe how well he was navigating the tight arrangements of racks and tables. There was an older kid with him, walking perfectly fine and dandy-his brother I gathered.
The kid in the chair perused the store like he was ready to pick out some skate gear and rolled up to me: “How much is the red Pro-tec helmet?” he asked.
Completely shocked, my first thought was, “Why the hell does he need a helmet? He isn’t skating anytime soon.”
I wish I had thought to hook him up with it. I was just so baffled that I didn’t even think to. I gave him a discounted price (without letting him know I was doing so). He seemed bummed. Maybe he couldn’t afford it. Within minutes, the boys rolled out the door. The brother then hopped on the back of the wheelchair, the way you might stand on the back of a shopping cart while pushing it, and with huge smiles on their faces, they fearlessly bombed down the hill in front of the shop without a care in the world-like they had done it many times before.
From that moment on I wondered: Was that kid, in his mind, skateboarding down that hill-just in a wheelchair rather than standing on a board? Was he picturing his favorite pro bombing a hill from a skate video or magazine he saw? Perhaps he was just lost in the moment and feeling it all for himself.
He was rolling fast, on four wheels, with a friend-the same air blowing in his face that I would’ve felt if I were on my board next to him.
Is it possible to be a skateboarder without ever having stepped on a skateboard? Could a child confined to a wheelchair become a skateboarder at heart through watching videos, reading magazines, hanging out at the local shop, playing Tony Hawk video games, and sincerely loving what he sees? Envisioning himself skateboarding and living through those of us lucky enough to actually be able to skate?
What Og De Souza does wasn’t skateboarding until he made it skateboarding right? There’s a photo of Mike Conneen dropping in on a quarterpipe in his wheelchair on Skateparkoftampa.com. The boy I mentioned bombed that hill with his brother in tow with ease. Each of them is as much of a skateboarder as the rest of us. Each of them deserves skateboarding as much as you and I do. And each of them is one of the most courageous and inspiring people I have seen in skateboarding since I started sixteen years ago.
As time goes on, more individuals like these will surface and break the mold of what a “skateboarder” really is. The day will come when we won’t be able to skate any longer for one reason or another, but in our hearts and minds, we will remain skateboarders. Surrounding ourselves with skateboarding videos, magazines, games, and younger generations of skaters or holding onto the memories that skateboarding gave us will transcend the actual act of riding a skateboard and allow us to be skateboarders for the rest of our lives if we choose to be.
So here’s to the boy in the wheelchair, and Mike Conneen, and Og De Souza, and anyone who overcomes tremendous barriers for their love of skateboarding. And here’s to the future generations of skateboarders that we’ll soon be living vicariously through in order to be able to say: “I’m a skateboarder for life.”-Rob Brink
Here’s the link to view Mike Conneen’s drop-in: http://www.skateparkoftampa.com/spot/article.aspx?id=346