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Adaptive skating welcomes new generation of athletes

Roughly 150 amputees and wheelchair-bound skaters suited up at Lively Pointe Skate Park where Irving-based RISE Adaptive Sports teamed up with Life Rolls On to host the 2nd annual They Will Skate Again in Irving on April 25. A combination of recreational and competitive skating, They Will Skate Again helps disabled athletes hone their skills as peers and professional skaters challenge them to be better athletes and more active members of their community.

“It’s a challenge. People face their fears; people overcome their fears. If they can do that here, they can relay that into others things in their life out in the community,” said Chris Goad, RISE Adaptive Sports’ Executive Director.

They Will Skate Again is not just a form of therapy, however. Opportunities are emerging in the world of sports for the very specific skill sets these unique athletes possess.

Christaan “Otter” Bailey made a name for himself internationally as a professional surfer and semi-pro skater in California, Africa and South America. After fracturing his vertebrae in a 2006 skateboarding accident that left him wheelchair-bound, he continues to be a viable competitor.

“This is one of the few sports – it’s a new and emerging sport – where they can come to a skate park where they’re on wheels and the other kids are on wheels, whether it’s a BMX or a skateboard or a scooter. It equalizes the playing field and it gives them a lot of confidence and independence,” Bailey said. “You’ve got to figure in their everyday lives, they’re usually the odd one out because they’re in a wheelchair, but to come out here and see other kids in chairs too and each one of them have their own issues and levels of ability, but they push each other and it’s a really healthy thing especially for a skate park scenario.”

Jon Comer is the first amputee to become a professional skateboarder. He lost part of his right leg when he was 7 years old and has been skating competitively since he was 13.

“When I was a kid, it never occurred to me [that I was at a disadvantage], and I just got used to it …. There weren’t any other kids like me around, so it was what I had to do. Plus, I won all the time, so I didn’t feel like it was that bad,” Comer said.

From the youngest skater, 18 month old Abel Rose who was completely comfortable in the chair and only needed someone to push him to the top of the ramp, to senior citizens, each participant had a story and unique goals.

Abel’s mother, Heather Rose, was ecstatic that opportunities like this exist for her son, who is at an age when other youngsters are getting ready to start toddler sports.

“He doesn’t have very much interest in children who aren’t in chairs, so getting him around other kids in wheelchairs, it just brings out a whole other side of him,” Heather said.

Five years ago, 10 year old Blake LaPointe’s spinal cord was severed in a car accident. Since then his uncle Joey has taken the whole family on numerous vacations from their home in Lake Charles, LA to places all around the United States so Blake can participate in various activities.

“It’s easy for the regular kids to get out and go play softball like one of my daughters does, but he’s limited where we come from because there aren’t a lot of activities for people like him,” Joey said.

“Hopefully he’ll start to learn that he’s not limited to anything, that’s there’s plenty for him to do – keeps his hopes up a little bit – because he’s the only one in our area. He’s got other friends who are in wheelchairs, but it’s not so much for a physical impairment. We want to let him see that … life does continue outside of that chair.”

Intense and genuine, Adam Williamson is the model for extreme sports enthusiasts in their late 20’s, except that he is in a wheelchair.

“At heart I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I like to do anything that deals with the blood flowing, the heart beating, so this is right up my alley,” Williamson said. “I’ve never had an opportunity to skate before and have always wanted to but didn’t know how, so this gives me an opportunity to come out and try something new.”

Jess Paniszczyn contributed to this article.