Kendall Speaks makes her way down the mega ramp during the 2016 WCMX World Championships. Photo Christopher Di Virgilio.
Spoke Spotlight - Kendall Speaks
Our celebration of Women's History Month continues
For 12-year-old Kendall Speaks, sports are her new love. They have given her confidence, taught her the importance of team work and good sportsmanship and given her the opportunity to make new friends.
It wasn’t always easy to make friends for the normally shy Speaks who rarely was included in school or social activities.
“I always felt left out, like at school,” says Speaks. “I don’t usually get invited to go with my friends … I guess because I am in a wheelchair, so I try to have friends come to my house and hang out with me.”
Speaks’ parents knew early on they would have to find creative ways for their daughter to be active and feel included. At the age of 3, Speaks was given a battery-operated four-wheeler which she took to instantly.
“I would push down with one hand on my knee to get my foot to be able to press the foot control to drive it and use the other hand to steer,” says Speaks. “I rode that thing so much the wheels eventually cracked.”
Over the years, that one toy translated into a Polaris Sportsman ATV and when she outgrew that, her father brought home a Honda 250 Recon.
“My parents wanted to always let me do what I could,” says Speaks. “They always wanted to give me the best quality of life. Of course, I’m very careful about what I do and always wear protective gear.”
Kendall Speaks hanging with WCMX legend Aaron 'Wheelz' Fotheringham. Photo courtesy Speaks family.
Still, living in the small town of Kitts Hill, Ohio left Speaks with limited options for adaptive sports and activities. As the only kid in a wheelchair at her school, she was often left feeling isolated from the other kids during recess or gym class.
“I didn’t participate in any sports, do gymnastics or even play on the playground equipment at school,” says Speaks. “I remember getting so upset and coming home from school and crying because I just wanted to be around other kids that were in wheelchairs.”
When she wasn’t zooming around on one of her ATVs, Speaks was enjoying the sport of swimming. While she wasn’t on a team, being in the water provided the freedom and agility she couldn’t experience on land.
“In the water, you can’t tell that I can’t walk,” says Speaks. “My disability goes away for a little while and I can kick my legs, I do front flips, back flips, and I really feel free in the water. I get in and out of the water to sit on the side of the pool and dive in.”
Speaks’ parents continued to research accessible sports programs and activities and before long, an entire community opened up. From sled hockey to wheelchair basketball Speaks was finally feeling like she belonged.
“We started traveling to Charleston, W.Va., to play sled hockey,” says Speaks. “This was an hour drive there and back once a week. It was fun, but I wanted to see if there was anything else and then we found the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA). My team is the Cincinnati Dragons and we are going to the NWBA Nationals Tournament at the end of March.”
That shy girl has become a distant memory as Speaks continues to blossom in the world of accessible sports. It’s no surprise that we caught up with her during last year’s WCMX World Championships in Texas hanging with the likes of Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham and learning to shred, dropping into some impressive bowls and even giving the huge ramp a go.
“It was my dad who discovered WCMX and wanted me to try,” says Speaks. “This was the very first time I have ever done this sport. I wouldn’t jump off a curb before, but during the clinic I went down a mega ramp, I wheeled down about 6 stairs and I actually got fifth-place in the WCMX World’s Championship.”
I would like to create a non-profit organization where I live and start adaptive sports here. I am sure there are other kids or adults with disabilities that would love to be able to be part of a team for wheelchair basketball. I’d also like to build a skate park in Ironton. Not just for people in chairs but for the public. Every big city I go to for a tournament for basketball, we always check out the cities skate park. They are big and so cool. I don’t know why we don’t have something here for the public. This would fight the diversity and bring all people together.
I would love to speak to other kids with disabilities and let them know how I used to feel when I wasn’t participating in any sports and how I am today. I am very busy and I guess that helps too. If the adaptive sports don’t come to my area, I want to move to a bigger city where there are more opportunities for people with disabilities and encourage this to anyone.
Women’s History Month
Speaks credits her mother for the young lady she is becoming.
My mom has supported me and helped me do so, so much, along with my dad too. She is the number one woman in my life and I tell her all the time that she is the best mom in the world. There is one more woman that I have read about and seen things in the media and that’s Paralympian swimmer Mallory Weggemann. I would love to meet her. I do love to swim and it may not be as important to me as wheelchair basketball or WCMX, but what I have read about her and her determination is what drives me. We also have similar spinal cord injuries and that’s very rare. Meeting her would be so awesome. I want to go to the Paralympics one day and she makes me believe that I can.
In Helping Other Women
For other girls that have disabilities, try to get involved with groups or sports that are out there to help support you. It is very important to have a support group and someone to talk to that has similarities like yourself. That is why I feel very strong about adaptive sports. Even if you do not want to be in the sport, they always need volunteers to help with the events and you will still be able to meet new friends and have the experiences like me. I used to be very depressed and felt alone but you aren’t alone. There are many kids out there like you and with social media, they are easy to find. Keep believing in yourself and have the courage to try something new. It will help you. The internet is a great place to start if you don’t know where to begin.
Speaks is happy young girl and has accepted the fact that she may never walk again. She’s replacing that dream for sports and her future goals, and as she says, “I am a fighter and a survivor.”