Skateboarding and action sports in general has often been associated with severe injuries like head trauma and partial paralysis. This has not stopped countless people with a deep, abiding love of skateboarding from continuing to skate even after a life altering injury. There are even those who are born with or receive a debilitating injury from other sources that choose to take up skateboarding later in life.
As a result of disabled individuals’ interest in skateboarding, and action sports in general, various organizations, products and competitions have emerged to serve them. One such organization is the Athletes with Disabilities Network, who as part of their work organizes a yearly event known as the Extremity Games. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the organization’s Executive Director, Beth Taylor, to get the inside scoop on the organization as well as her take on what role disabled athletes play within the world of sports. Here’s what she had to say:
Gonzalez: How did the Extremity Games and the Athletes with Disabilities Network come into being and what is the organization working on at the moment?
Taylor: Athletes with Disabilities Network was formed by joining Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame (ADHOF) and Extremity Games.
ADHOF was established in 1999 to recognize men and women who have overcome physical challenges to become elite athletes and superior role models. ADHOF has inducted nearly 40 athletes into its Michigan Hall of Fame. In 2009, ADHOF introduced and inducted its first athlete into the new National Hall of Fame. ADHOF developed our No Limits Mentoring program and Collegiate Scholarship Fund, which we continue today.
Extremity Games, established in 2006, is an extreme sports event including competitions, instructional clinic and exhibitions for athletes with amputations and spinal cord injuries. Organized to raise awareness of the abilities of adaptive athletes, Extremity Games provides the opportunity for athletes to compete peer-to-peer, limb loss-to-limb loss, while competing for cash and other prizes. Extremity Games hosts athletes from around the world to help show “There’s No Replacement for the Competitive Spirit.”
Athletes with Disabilities Network’s mission is to promote a better quality of life by creating opportunities for people with physical disabilities. Our programs include Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame, Extremity Games, Mentoring and Outreach, Adaptive Sports Coalition and Collegiate Scholarships.
Gonzalez: Do you have a tentative date and location set for next year’s Extremity Games? If not, when is that information usually released?
Taylor: Yes, dates are tentative, but this is what we are targeting for Extremity Games 7.
Extremity Games 7 Motorcross – May 26, 2012 at Baja Acres in Millington, Michigan
Extremity Games 7 Main Event – June 22-23, 2012 at Texas Ski Ranch just outside San Antonio, Texas
Gonzalez: In your estimation, how many disabled action sports athletes are there in America or around the world?
Taylor: I don’t even know how to start this estimate — There are some statistics available from the Amputee Coalition of America.
Gonzalez: What is the action sports industry doing right in regards to serving the needs of disabled athletes and where could it stand some improvement?
Taylor: The actions sports industry is really starting to embrace adaptive athletes. Extremity Games hosted its first ever Adaptive Motocross competition in 2007. In 2008, ESPN X Games included adaptive motocross into their line-up. In collaboration with Adaptive Action Sports, Extremity Games was the qualifier for Adaptive Motocross in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, motocross, both able-body and adaptive, were taken out of the competition in 2011. X Games also has embraced the adaptive skateboard community by including an adaptive skateboard exhibition 2008-2011, as well as Adaptive Snow cross during their Winter X Games.
Action sports can be dangerous and many of the athletes who currently compete at Extremity Games have lost their limbs or their limb function by doing the sports they love. We have a saying, “There’s No Replacement for the Competitive Spirit”, which means to us that you can brace a limb, replace a limb, but you can’t replace that lust for competition. When action sports and competition get in your blood, it’s like an addiction. It’s inspiring to see the athletes overcome their challenges and return to the sports they love so much.
This year, Extremity Games served at the qualifier for the World Wakeboard Association’s National Championships. This is the first ever inclusion of adaptive wakeboarding.
The greatest challenge is funding. On the event side, organizations need funding and support the keep events happening, and promoted for exposure and attendance. In addition, athletes need funding for equipment and travel.
Gonzalez: What advice would you give to a disabled person who is interested in taking up skateboarding or action sports in general?
Taylor: Come to Extremity Games. Athletes at Extremity Games build a great camaraderie with each other. They work with each other to give tips on tricks, prosthesis adjustments and products. It’s a great community to be a part of and quite different from attending anything else. One major aspect of Extremity Games is the clinics. Athletes can spend a full-day trying new sports or practicing sports that they’re newly interested in. They get a wealth of experience and join the adaptive family of Extremity Games.
Gonzalez: What types of assistive devices and services are available to disabled action sports athletes (especially skateboarders) that want to continue participating or starting to learn a sport?
Taylor: Assistive Devices available include: sit wakeboard cages, roll bars for motocross, arm/shoulder devices for upper extremity kayakers and rock climbers, prosthetic knees/feet
Services available include: instructional clinics and competitions in action sports. There are a lot of great events available for athletes who are interested in taking part in sports. Actions sports are really becoming more main stream because they are more life-style sports. People do these sports for fun and that turns into great competition.
Gonzalez: How would a disabled person go about locating and accessing those resources?
Taylor: Athletes with Disabilities Network provides a quarterly e-newsletter including an event calendar, updates on events, fundraising opportunities, mentoring and outreach opportunities, Hall of Fame updates. People can join by entering their email address at the upper left-hand corner of our web pages.
Gonzalez: What role do you see disabled action sports athletes playing in the sports industry within the next 5 to 10 years?
Taylor: It’s only going to get bigger, better and more mainstream. With the help of X Games, adaptive sports have received some much needed attention. Even movies like Avatar , which features a man in a wheelchair. Or, “How to Train Your Dragon” , at the end (SPOILER ALERT) the boy becomes an amputee. I loved that movie. What a way to show young people how to overcome an injury.
Gonzalez: Who are some of the action sports athletes that have been involved in furthering Extremity Games and ADN’s mission over the years and what have they contributed?
Taylor: Jim Wazny, Chris Ridgeway, Mike Schultz, Sean Reyngoudt, Billy Tonis, Brandon Holiday, Amy Purdy, Craig DeMartino, Ronnie Dickson, Jon Comer, Garry Moore, and many, many more. Each athlete brings their own community of people who have helped them and who want to see adaptive athletes succeed, competitions grow and more sports be included.
ADN and Extremity Games were created for adaptive athletes. We are constantly looking for feedback from athletes to make Extremity Games and ADN programs better. These athletes have been on the frontlines help to provide clearer direction for programs and events that are needed in the community.
Gonzalez: What has been your most memorable and rewarding moment working with Extremity Games/ADN and why?
Taylor: There was women amputee athlete at the first Extremity Games in 2006. Prior to coming to Extremity Games, she always wore a cover on her prosthesis, always wore pants — .and she lives in Florida. After coming to Extremity Games, she saw that people looked just like her. Coming to Extremity Games gave her the confidence to embrace her differences.
Here are a couple of great quotes from athletes who competed this year:
“Extremity Games was the first event for adaptive athletes that my son attended. Before that he had no idea that there was anyone who understood him, or who was the same. Extremity Games promotes and enables lifetime friendships between those needing support and being assured that life doesn’t end, just changes a bit. The new athletes are encouraged and mentored by the seasoned athletes and give them a reason or goal to work towards. My son realizes that he belongs to a very special group of people through the event, not only the athletes, but the organizers and supporters.”
-Kathy Miller, mother of Extremity Games athlete Alex Miller , above knee amputee
“Extremity Games Motocross has giving me something to live for again. I’m able to set goals in the one sport that means the most to me and work to achieve those.”
– Jesse Gildea , paraplegic
Its stories like this that keeps me going. I’m so proud to be a part of Extremity Games and the adaptive sports movement.
Gonzalez: How can people become involved with Extremity Games and AND?
Taylor: To get involved, please call 248.829.8353 or visit our web pages. People can also follow ADN and Extremity Games on Facebook.
Gonzalez: If Extremity Games could only be remembered for one thing what would you hope that one thing would be and why?
Taylor: I hope Extremity Games is remembered for its camaraderie, for being a competition where athletes can compete peer-to-peer, limb-loss-to-limb-loss and for helping people with disabilities (whether an athlete or not) become more accepted. People with disabilities are not disabled; they may just have to do things a little differently.
Thomas Paine is quoted as saying “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”. This truly defines the greatness of Extremity Games. Many people facing a life-changing injury are told they can only do this or they can’t do that — and they’re never going to be able to do that. Extremity Games provides the opportunity for athletes to defy those set limits.
Each athlete, with his or her own inspiring story, has overcome a conflict to be there to compete. Extremity Games provide the platform for athletes to share their story, engage the competitive spirit and pushing each other to our limits. Furthermore, Extremity Games helps people recognize their own personal endurance, strength and achievement, while offering an opportunity for individuals to have camaraderie with others facing the same challenges.
My children are skateboarders and I have a history of following the sport. In addition, I have spent several years working with disabled adults and children as a social worker.
More from this contributor:
Interview with Yogi Proctor: The man behind etnies Public Domaine Skate Culture exhibit
Interview: Onree Gill, Musical Director for Grammy Award winning artist Alicia Keys
Anastasia Ashley interview: Pro Surfer, Advocate and now Playmate
An interview with skater Andy MacDonald