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Larry Foster (above) and Evan Strong (below) enjoying the Venice Beach, Calif., skate park during the Life Rolls On They Will Skate Again Shoe City Open. Photo courtesy Phil Mollinedo.

Life Rolls On

Online Exclusive posted Monday, August 22, 2011 - 11:55am

Wheelchair athletes spent a day at the Venice Beach Calif., skate park showing off their skills during the 2011 They Will Skate Again Shoe City Open.

On June 25, Life Rolls On Foundation (LRO) hosted the They Will Skate Again SHOE CITY Open at the Venice, Calif., Beach Skate Park right on the water’s edge. That day, wheelchair users and people with amputations from all over came together to push their limits and “adapt” their wheelchairs or other assistive devices to one of the world’s most renowned skate parks.

Many wheelchair users must navigate some sort of physical barrier or obstacle every day. The Shoe City Open gave the athletes the opportunity to turn obstacles into fun and some serious prize money – $10,000 worth! Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham, famous for successfully landing the first wheelchair back flip, and Christiaan “Otter” Bailey were coaches the for paralyzed and amputee athletes, while professional skaters Jim Muir and Christian Hosoi of Dogtown’s Z-Boys coached adaptive stand-up skaters. Many local volunteers also came to help out.

Local surfer and Venice resident Carolyn Durkalski volunteered at her first Life Rolls On Event. “I don’t know whose adrenaline was pumping more – mine or the skaters’,” says Durkalski.

Christiaan Bailey and Aaron Fotheringham get extreme at the Venice Beach, Calif., skate park during the Life Rolls On They Will Skate Again Shoe City Open. Photo by Phil Mollinedo.

From helping repair flat tires to making sure the athletes had protective gear or just learning about their injuries or stories, Durkalski wanted to be part of the action and help out. “For me, the highlight was helping 6-year-old Carter roll down a mid-size ramp and keep pushing until he got up the other side on his own,” says Durkalski. “Everyone was cheering. He was a real trouper.”

While trying to duplicate stand-up skater tricks can be a difficult feat for anyone, Fotheringham, Bailey, and the other adaptive athletes put on quite a show. Starting from the top of a ten-foot ledge (like a swimming pool edge), the “skaters” would “drop in” with enough grit and speed to get them to the other side - hitting the rim, catching air, and then dropping back in. The crowd cheered and was in awe with all the hand plants, wheelies, rollouts, and mid-air 180-degree turns. These maneuvers are spectacular tricks for the average skateboarder, but in a wheelchair, they’re unbelievable.

“This was an awesome day,” says Jesse Billauer, founder and director of national outreach for Life Rolls On. With a vendor village, music by local radio station KROQ, pro skaters, competition, and huge crowds, this wasn’t just a community service program – this was an unbelievable event. “Seeing adaptive athletes do their thing in the skate park demonstrates there are no limits for people living with disabilities.”

The courage, speed, adaptability, and sheer will of these athletes was awe-inspiring, to say the least. From age 6 up to age 46, all the athletes that day achieved greatness. One teen girl who had never been in a skatepark was doing turns on the ramp in her wheelchair by day’s end. A loving father pushed his 6-year-old son throughout the entire park for hours, determined to make sure his son had the time of his life.

“It doesn’t get any more rewarding than seeing 7-year-old Hunter raise his hands high above his head with an ear-to-ear smile as he drops down the ramp for the first time,” says LRO program manager Sarah Donaldson. “It’s an honor to have skate pros and  extreme legends like the Ezekiel skate team, Scott Oster, Jim Muir, and Christian Hosoi support our efforts by serving as coaches for our athletes. We are grateful to our sponsors Vans, Ezekiel, and Shoe City as they help our program grow.” 

This year, LRO added the They Will Skate Again SHOE CITY Open, an adaptive skate competition for skaters with spinal-cord injuries and amputations, which featured a $10,000 prize purse. “It was pretty amazing to watch the pros trying to shoot video of the incredible tricks the athletes pulled off in the skate bowl,” says Donaldson.

It was a joy to watch and participate in this event. I had seen a video of Fotheringham on  YouTube doing his full back flip, but to see it in person in his tricked-out wheelchair was amazing. Some of the wheelchairs were specially adapted by Mike Box and company to do just these types of crazy tricks. I attempted dropping in with my semi-standard wheelchair. I did ok coming in fifth place, but I couldn’t touch their high-flying tricks (and I had just won in the slalom event at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, no easy task). Fortherington rolled off with much deserved first place and a check for $5,000, a brand-new Jackson electric guitar, and the girl. (Just kidding about the girl, but he did get paid.)

One of the best parts of the day was watching the young, future adaptive skaters. It was great sharing techniques and secrets on how to do certain tricks (without getting too outrageous). In just one afternoon, their confidence, ability, and chairs soared. It takes hours and hours of grinding it out in a skate park taking hard hits and getting big air to go pro, but that day, everyone went home feeling some wheelchair swagger. Everyone fell more than a few times that day, but we also kept getting back up and hitting it again. That was the most impressive part.

Could this be a new X Games event? It wouldn’t surprise me.


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