Katherine Beattie – Skate Park Fun

Katherine Beattie -Dropping In. Beattie in wheelchair and helmut sitting at the edge of a skateboard ramp

By day, Katherine Beattie is a television writer whose name graces the credits of big hits like NCIS: New Orleans and Californication. But when she’s not shredding up her keyboard, she’s shredding up something else—skate-parks. And she’s promoting using a wheelchair.

Katherine Beattie isn’t just known for her work in television. She’s also an experienced WCMX star, recognized as being the first woman in the world to complete a backflip in a wheelchair.

And her involvement in the budding sport doesn’t stop there, either. Beattie is deeply and integrally involved in the development, growth, and advocacy of WCMX, using her writing talent to help pen the rule book itself. And now, she’s teaching young up-and-coming WCMX competitors the ropes as the sport inches toward someday earning its rightful place in the Paralympic Games.

Beattie had a chat with ABILITY’s Nancy Villere at a skate park just outside San Bernadino, California, where they were joined by two other WCMX figures—one a budding young star, the other an experienced wheelchair Rugby gold medalist who, like Beattie, is helping build the sport—to discuss both the roots of WCMX and it’s future.

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Katherine Beattie: Today we are at Fontana Skate Park in southern California. This is one of the most wheelchair-friendly parks in the country, really. A group of us come out about once a week and ride on our chairs and drop into bowls and run rails and just have a good time.

Nancy Villere: You drop into bowls? Like salads?

Beattie: (laughs) These concrete things behind me. You just wheelie up to the edge and push off. That’s really how we get all our speed. It sounds scary to a lot of people, but it’s pretty much the most basic thing we can do in WCMX. It’s all about getting speed and maintaining it. We don’t have legs to pump like a skateboarder, so we’ve got to take what we can get at the beginning and then just ride it out from there.

Villere: What was it like for you the first time?

Beattie: Oh, I was terrified! The first time I learned to drop in, it was years and years ago. Today we have a group of people out here doing it together, but when I started, I was the only one in the area. I didn’t have any friends who rode wheelchairs. So I had to teach myself. It took me months to learn to drop in. Today, you know, I can get a six-year-old out here and teach them in an hour, but for me, it took, like, three months to even just get the courage to roll up to an edge and push off. I fell multiple times in a row, but the first time I landed all the way clean was such a rush, and then it just built from there.

Villere: What causes you to fall if you just drop in?

Beattie: The main thing that people do is, they lean backwards because they don’t want to fall forward and fall on their face. But as anybody who rides a wheelchair in everyday life knows, wheelchairs like to tip backwards. So that’s the main thing that we tell everybody, don’t lean back on your wheelchair, because you’re strapped in, and if it’s going down, you’re going down with it.

Villere: The wheelchairs are especially designed for this?

Beattie: Yes. The wheelchair I’m in today is a Box wheelchair WCMX chair specifically designed for the skate-park. It has four-link suspension Fox mountain bike shocks. It’s got a big back axle and it’s got a grind bar. Really it’s just made with durability in mind so we can throw our chairs hard at the ground and get back up and do it again. Eventually they do break if you’re riding hard enough, but they’re really just made to kind of push the boundaries and test the limits of what wheelchairs can do.

Villere: What did you use the first time you were out?

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Beattie: The first wheelchair that I actually purchased was a WCMX chair, because I knew as soon as I got a wheelchair that I wanted to go into a skate-park. They’re perfect for everyday as well. I started riding a WCMX chair right out of the gate.

Villere: Oh, I thought you took one out of a hospital setting and dropped in.

Beattie: (laughs) You can do that. I wouldn’t recommend it. I think you’re very likely to have a bad result if you do that. But I have seen guys riding hospital chairs if that’s all they’ve got. Just start with whatever you have.

Villere: Those little wheelie protectors that are in the back—?

Beattie: Oh, wheelie bars? No.

Villere: Do you have to take those off?Beattie coaching a boy in wheelchair skills

Beattie: We recommend that most people try to get rid of those as soon as they can. They’re really more of a hindrance. They stop you from doing a lot of things, like even just in everyday life going up curbs and having freedom to go over rough terrain. And here in the park, they serve no purpose whatsoever. We take those off and teach everybody how to wheelie as soon as they get here. Not only is that key for WCMX, but it’s a life skill that you need to know for outside of the park, and if you have wheelie bars on your chair, you’re not learning how to really use it. So we try to encourage people to get rid of those if they can.

Villere: What about the shocks, the suspension?

Beattie: What I have here is just standard Fox mountain bike shocks. There’s a system on it called Air Pro that links the two shocks together. It’s right here under my seat. That way I can inflate the shocks to an equal pressure. We can lock them out or soften them up depending upon the terrain. If we’re going to be cruising the park, we want them pretty stiff so we don’t lose speed, but if we’re going to be dropping off a six-foot wedge or going down a bunch of stairs or something, you want them pretty soft so they can save your back.

Villere: Are there places that are more extreme than this place?

Beattie: Oh, yeah! This is a very friendly, mellow skate-park. It’s got areas for all abilities, for WCMX and for skating and BMXing or whatever sport you do. But there are parks we go to that aren’t wheelchair-accessible at all and we have to get friends to pull us out. Otherwise we’d be stuck in there. But yeah, any skate-park you can ride in your wheelchair. You just need to have the creative mindset that you’re going to make it happen.

Villere: What’s the biggest drop that you’ve done?

Beattie: The biggest drop that I’ve done is maybe about 8 to 10 feet. I don’t love the big drop-ins, because a lot of the time they don’t really lead to anything. I’m more of—I like to create lines and flow and have a nice run. And there are people who like to do the biggest thing just to do the biggest thing, but if it’s just going to be a big drop that’s going to hurt your back because it looks cool, I’d rather practice something else.

Villere: Have you ever done one of those where you go down a ramp and fall into a foam pit?

Beattie: Yes! Yeah! A foam bit is how I learned to do the backflip, which I did a couple years back. Those of us who are lucky to have access to foam pits practice the bigger tricks, like 360s. Anything where you’re going to go upside-down you want to practice in a foam pit. They’re super-fun to fly into and super-hard to get out. The key is to try to learn fast and not spend too much time in them.

Villere: I’ve lost two friends to foam. We just can’t find them.

Beattie: (laughs) Yeah, they’re stuck in there, I know. Those things are down deep. They’re like keys. They’re just gone.

Villere: Have you been to Pala [Raceway]?

Beattie: No, I haven’t.

Villere: I watched Aaron Fotheringham and other guys riding —

Beattie: Yeah, in the Nitro Circus. They go in bathtubs and recliners and anything that they can put on wheels they’ll take down the mega-ramp. I haven’t done the mega-ramp yet. I haven’t ruled it out, but I have another life. I am a television writer, and I love to do that, so I try to in my sports life push the boundaries, but keep it within a lane so I don’t get hurt.

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Villere: (looking at a wheelchair rider in the bowl) I just saw somebody fall and he was able to right himself up without any help.

Beattie: Oh, yeah! That’s one of the key things to learn here is how to pop back up on your own at the park, because you don’t really want to slow down other skaters, get in their way. We’re all sharing the space. It’s about being fast and watching out. And also, when you’re at home and you fall out of your wheelchair, this is a perfect place to learn how to get back into it, because you’re all padded up and you won’t get hurt.

Villere: Do you stay padded every day!

Beattie: Yes. Any time I leave the house I have a full-face helmet on. It makes driving really hard, and nobody can hear me talk, you know? Safety first. (laughs)

Villere: Is there anything like this going to be happen in Paralympic sports?

Beattie: WCMX is a fairly new sport. It’s been around unofficially as long as there have been skates parks and wheelchairs people have been riding, but I’ve been riding for about five years, and I would say as an organized sport as a whole it’s probably only been about 10 years. We’re growing. Right now we’re focusing on growing internationally and getting more competitors and more competitions. Right now the main focus of competition is in southern California and in Germany. But once we can make that more worldwide, we’ll look to try to get included in the Paralympics.

Villere: What’s the competition like?

Beattie: It varies based on the skate-park and what the setup is conducive to. Normally you get a two-minute run to do as many tricks as you can. You’re judged on style, flow, use of the park, difficulty of tricks, how many times you fall. Pretty much anything like you would see on the X Games that skateboarders or BMXers do, that’s what we’re trying to do. We took our judging criteria from snowboard competitions, because it’s very similar. Snowboarders are strapped into their boards like we’re strapped into our chairs. They’re mostly going downhill to get speed. We like to go downhill, too. So that’s the route we’re taking right now.

Hopefully in the next 10 to 12 years it’ll be international enough to where we can go to the next level of competition.

Villere: Is anybody doing that, taking a wheelchair down a slope?

Beattie: I would have to assume—I know there are a lot of people who do sit-skiing and that kind of stuff. But if you can’t afford a monoski, I don’t see why you couldn’t figure out some wheel blades and take your chair down a mountain.

Villere: You’d get so much speed.

Beattie: Yeah, I know. People are resourceful. Adaptive equipment is expensive, so just use what you’ve got.

Villere: In mountain biking, where they’re going downhill, has anybody tried that?

Beattie: Not in these chairs. They do have the downhill mountain adapter bikes. They’ve got handlebars in the front and you lean more forward. Sitting up like this, you would definitely get a mouthful of dirt the first rock or divot you hit.

Villere: That makes sense.

Beattie: Yeah. We like smooth surfaces.

Villere: Would a four-wheel bike like that fit in a park like this?

Beattie: I think it’d be pretty tight in here, but maybe a bigger bowl? I’m sure if somebody had one, we’d push him off and see how they did. That’s pretty much what we do with everybody here.

Villere: Have you been hurt doing this?

Beattie: I’ve been lucky to not really break any bones or anything. I did have an accident at a competition a couple of years ago and got a really bad concussion. I got knocked unconscious and unfortunately couldn’t compete in the finals. That was my worst injury. It took several months to recover.

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Villere: At least you had a helmet on.

Beattie: Yes. I probably would have been dead without the helmet. That’s why we wear them. But yeah, other than that, I’ve been really lucky. I know how to fall, let’s just say that. I’m good at that.

Villere: Head first?

Beattie: Elbows. (laughs)

Villere: When you did the backflip, tell us about how you—you started in a foam pit?

Beattie: Yeah. I started in the foam pit at Woodward West which is an action sports camp about two hours north of here. I went up to Woodward one day and just knew I was going to nail it. It took me seven hours to even figure out how to get upside-down in the foam pit. And that’s seven hours of crawling up the stairs, going down into the foam pit, and being towed out. I was just dead by the end of the day. So it ended up taking me 8 months in total of several different sessions of training, trying to get that rotation. And then one day I was there with a couple buddies who also ride wheelchairs, and we kind of all just decided, “Today’s the day!” They of course picked it up like that, and I was so motivated by seeing them do it, so I just decided to go for it.

The first time took four attempts. I landed on the fourth one. I couldn’t believe when I landed and I was sitting at the top of the ramp and I wasn’t lying on my side. I had a moment of, “What’s happening? Is this real?” And then I just landed it. It was like all of that, all the years of work and wanting to do the backflip and not thinking it would ever happen, and then to be the first girl to do it and now seeing other girls who are following in my footsteps and doing backflips, it’s so great.

Villere: Is it following in your footsteps or in your wheelsteps?

Beattie: I guess my pushes, yeah! (laughs)

Villere: Have you done it multiple times now?

Beattie: Yeah. I do it mostly at Woodward West, because it has the perfect ramp for it. There are guys like Aaron Fotheringham who can do a backflip here. Myself, I couldn’t get the speed. My arms aren’t quite big enough. But the key is to get the speed. So if I had the right ramp, sure. But now that I’m in my early thirties and there are younger girls—

Villere: I was going to say, you’re old!

Beattie: (laughs) Yes, I’m old! But I’m in my early thirties and there are younger girls behind me. I just figure, let them do it. They can take a few more falls. I’m happy to let them have all the attention now.

Villere: Have you thought of doing any other Paralympic sports?

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Beattie: Yes, actually. A couple years ago, when bobsled and skeleton were trying to get into the Paralympics, I was all set to try out for the skeleton team. I joined the Bobsled Federation. I got my physical. I was ready to go to the tryouts, and unfortunately, with my work schedule, at the last minute I was not able to do it. So I never got to try skeleton, and subsequently they didn’t make it into the Paralympics. I still would love to try to skeleton.

Villere: What is the skeleton?

Beattie: It’s like the luge, but you’re head first. You just lie like this and go down an ice track.

Villere: Just your body?

Beattie: You’re on like a little sled.

Villere: Oh, you cheat!

Beattie: Yeah. (laughs) I think there’d be a lot of friction.

Villere: So you’re on a sled. That’s not a sport yet?

Beattie: Right it’s not a Paralympic sport. They have it in the Olympics, but bobsled I think got into the next Paralympics. Skeleton was not accepted. I would like to try it. I don’t love cold weather. I’m more of a southern California girl, so I don’t know that I could hack it in a spandex suit on ice for very long.

Villere: Is there anything in the summer that you could compete in?

Beattie: I’m sure. I just like extreme sports. Maybe one day if surfing gets into the Paralympics, I’d love to do that.

Villere: That’s right, you surf. Where?

Beattie: Ventura, Santa Monica, Huntington, La Jolla, anywhere that there’s a group of people who want to surf with me, I’ll surf. I’m surfing next weekend in Santa Monica. I’m super-excited about it. I’ve tried it a couple times this summer.

Villere: Where in Santa Monica is there a break?

Beattie: It’s Lifeguard Tower 17 or something. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I surf with Life Rolls On in the summer.

Villere: Jesse?

Beattie: Yeah. Wherever they go. Santa Monica is pretty closed out. It’s not the best waves. The reason why I love Life Rolls On is, there are so many volunteers it’s literally just a conveyor belt. They just push you and you’re just out. And then you have to try not to hit anybody on the way back in. I love surfing. It’s just a little bit more production than WCMX because it’s getting to the water and then it’s getting into the water, getting out of the water, and here, we just grab our helmets and roll in. As long as the walls aren’t too steep we can get up by ourselves and be independent all day.

Villere: How is the park accessible?

Beattie: Fontana skate-parks came out before competition. All of these rails that you see stopped here, so we had no way to get onto them. They came out and welded extensions, making all of these rails wheelchair-accessible. That way you can start from back there, push as hard as you can, and ride right up onto this. In my case, probably fall off, but yeah, it’s Fontana skate-parks, and Alliance Skate-parks, who run this place, are really committed to WCMX as a sport and to making skate-parks more inclusive. With all the skat-parks they build going forward, they’ll keep wheelchair accessibility in mind. Not just getting into the park, but having obstacles in the park that we can ride that are specifically meant for wheelchairs, not a bowl for skateboarders that we have to make work. They’re all about giving us obstacles that we can ride and progress and have fun. Partnering with skate -parks has really done a lot for the sport. I’m really excited to see what we come up with next.

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Villere: You said something happened to your foot?

Beattie: I just possibly have a stress fracture from a surgery that I had a couple of years ago.

Villere: The surgery caused it?

Beattie: Maybe. I had a surgery on the foot, and now I have a possible stress fracture on the foot.

Villere: Are you having issues today?

Beattie: It’s because I strap my knees down so tight so my legs don’t move when I’m riding, it creates a lot of pressure on my foot. I usually try to only ride for 20 minutes at a time and then take a break.

Villere: What’s the physical issue you’re having? Do you have feelings in your foot?

Beattie: Oh, yeah. I have cerebral palsy, so I have feeling almost everywhere.

Villere: You had mentioned that you could walk with help.

Beattie: Yeah. I can stand and I can walk short distances. I use crutches. I use a wheelchair most of the time just because it’s easier and safer and I prefer it, but I only started using a wheelchair five years ago. I can walk independently and use crutches outside of the home, especially after my last surgery.

Villere: You’ve had multiple surgeries.

Beattie: Yeah, but I’ve got the best of both worlds, walking and rolling.

Villere: Now you just have to get electric chairs so you have speed.

Beattie: I know. They have the power assists, but then I’m afraid that—there goes my whole workout.

Villere: Does your CP effect your fingers?

Beattie: Yeah. My entire body, my legs more than my arms, my hands don’t have a good grip. A lot of times when I’m pushing my chair in the park or out of the park, my hands will just fall off the push rims. And then there’s kind of a strength issue. I do have a lot of strength. I can lift a lot of weight. But translating that into pushing for the park, I don’t have the same kind of power as somebody with a lower SCI that didn’t have any upper-body involvement would have. And there’s everything else that goes along with it, like balance and reflexes and that kind of stuff.

It’s really interesting with sport, because you have guys who might have an SCI and have no function of their lower body, and that in some ways is a disadvantage. I have function in my lower body, which could be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage, it’s really just—it depends, which is why it’s so fun to ride together and interesting to compete, because everybody’s dealing with a different issue. Something that might be beneficial for somebody else won’t be for me, or something I might find useful will be a hindrance for somebody with a different condition.

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There’s something for everybody in this sport, and it’s finding the style that works for you. We have everyone from paraplegia, quadriplegia, people with CP, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, nerve disorders, anybody that—

Villere: You name it! Come on out!

Beattie: You name it. Even if you’re able-bodied and interested in riding WCMX, we might not let you compete against us in competition, but we would love to have you out and give it a try. I love to let people hop in my wheelchair whenever I’m at a park. If I see somebody eying it, I’m like, “Hey!” and it’s not like a challenge, it’s an invitation. Give it a try. Some people take me up on it. Most people say, “Wow, that’s really hard,” after one time rolling down a ramp, they’ll just jump out and run up and they’re like, “I’m done.”

Villere: For some reason it scares me to try it, knowing that I would go backwards. I feel like I would have to practice balance issues. I can’t do wheelies.

Beattie: That took me a long time to learn, too, weeks and weeks. When I first got a chair, I was convinced I was never going to be able to figure out how to do a wheelie, because I had to teach myself. Now I can backflip and ride rails.

Villere: Oh, I could back flip! Not that I want to! (laughs)

Beattie: Yeah. People mostly start with the back flip after I tell them, “Start there and then work your way up to wheelies!” (laughs)

Villere: You have a twin sister. Does she do sports at all?

Beattie: I have two sisters. I have one twin and one older sister, both very athletic. My twin sister is a basketball coach and did more team sports and swimming growing up. And we used to skateboard a little bit when we were kids, and I have had her out at the park a couple times and gotten her to try WCMX. She’s not good at it.

Villere: (laughs)

Beattie: She’s very tall. She’s eight inches taller than I am.

Villere: The twin or the older one?

Beattie: My twin sister is eight inches taller than I am.

Villere: Who came out first?

Beattie: I did.

Villere: Nothing is making sense.

Beattie: Yeah. But it’s so funny because, I have a couple of videos of her, and she’s going slow as molasses, and I keep telling her, “You need to go faster. You’re going to fall over. In extreme sports, speed is your best friend. That’s what keeps us upright. Go faster.” I don’t know if it’s nerves or geometry, but she’s not good at it. But she at least has given it a try. I have to give her credit for that. I respect anybody who’s willing to give WCMX a try. It’s not easy.

Villere: So do you respect me?

Beattie: Not yet! (laughs) There’s still time! (laughs) Like I said, anybody can hop in the chair.

Villere: Can I go to IHOP in the chair.

Beattie: (laughs) OK!

Villere: This is your main hobby?

Beattie: Yeah. Writing is my profession, and this is more of a hobby. As much as I wish, if I had another life, I would love to be a professional athlete, but yeah, doing this with SoCal WCMX, which is our organization, getting people out to the skate-park to enjoy their wheelchairs, I love the extreme sports aspect of it, but also growing up not having access to a wheelchair and just encountering a lot of stigma around that, I want to show people that wheelchairs are fun. They’re not something to be afraid of or be sad that you have to use it. It’s just an enhancement to your life. That’s one of the best things for me about being in SoCal WCMX, that we get to show people—like, all these skaters out here, a lot of them we know, but I guarantee there are some new people here today who have never seen people in wheelchairs riding skate-parks. And maybe that’s changing their thinking a little bit. So if they encounter somebody in a wheelchair or if they end up in a wheelchair later in life, which happens to a lot of people, they’ll have a more positive mindset.

Villere: Is that a sponsor’s helmet?

Beattie: Sort of. They send me free products sometimes, but I’m not sponsored by them. This is carbon fiber a really nice helmet, a $500 helmet.

Villere: It looks really light!

Beattie: It’s on its last legs. The visor fell off the other day when I was at Woodward. And it’s cracked.

Villere: Who knows where that could have come from?

Beattie: (laughs) I know. I cracked it right after I got it, and I thought “Oh, that’s just superficial.” This is a really good helmet, I think.

Villere: I put more money into my helmet than it’s worth (laughs)

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Beattie: Oh, really! I would 100 percent be dead when I crashed on that backflip. The entire back of my helmet was totally shattered. And all I did was lose consciousness for a minute and then I was fine.

Villere: And that’s a regular motorcycle helmet?

Beattie: No, this is a bike helmet.

Villere: Oh, that’s why it’s so light!

Beattie: Troy might have a motocross helmet on.

Villere: Maybe the motocross is for more impact.

Beattie: Troy Lee Designs does a really good motocross helmet.

Villere: And they also look good.

Beattie: Yeah. And some of the guys wear motocross helmets. They’re just really heavy. And we’re not going that fast. Like Aaron, when he does mega-ramp and stuff, he’ll wear a motocross helmet. For us, as long as we learn how to fall, that’s what I always tell people, this is just fine. And I do recommend a full-face, because like I said, you’re strapped in.

Villere: Oh, sure.

Beattie: And even with a full-face, I’ve hit my chin several times. It’s a really fast way to lose teeth.

Villere: I used to use bubble wrap.

Beattie: (laughs) That works, too, but not as well.

Villere: All that popping!

Beattie: Yeah, you’ve got to keep replacing it every time it pops.

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Katherine and Nancy are joined by Troy McGuirk, a Paralympic Rugby gold medalist who helped establish WCMX

Villere: What do you do when you’re not supporting SoCal WCMX?

Troy McGuirk: I work for a couple of wheelchair manufacturers. I sell Box wheelchairs and Vesco wheelchairs.

I started SoCal WCMX. We pretty much started that to let people know when and where we’ll be at, so if they want to show up, they can show up. We have some extra helmets, and try to get them involved. A lot of our people are repeaters, we just come out and have fun and feed off each others’ energy.

Villere: Do you have a website?

McGuirk: We use Facebook and Instagram, that’s our main thing. We are working on a website, just because the sport is starting to grow. I want to put a full calendar out there of everything that’s going on with WCMX in the world. And then also have a rating of skate-parks out there, something like that, so people know that, “If something’s going on in Upland Park and you’re going to go there, don’t. There’s no reason to go to that park in a wheelchair.” Stuff like that.

Villere: So Upland has a park, too?

McGuirk: Upland has a park. Right now every city has one to two parks. And that’s another big push of mine, trying to get to the park builders and say, “This is what we need.” Like, when we came into this park, there was no rail onto that rail so we can slide up onto it, over here, either. I knew the park owner, he’s friends with the park builder, so we had him come in and put this stuff in. Now I’m trying to get other skate-park builders to do similar things like this and make their parks to where we can come in and use them and have fun.

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This is like the Mecca of WCMX parks, this park right here. I don’t think there’s a park in the world that’s better than this park for WCMX.

Villere: How did you get involved in this?

McGuirk: Broke my neck.

Villere: Not everyone has to do that to get into it.

McGuirk: (laughs) Yeah. I’ve been in a wheelchair for 26 years. I started with wheelchair rugby. It was always a dream of mine to go into a skate-park with a wheelchair. Nobody would build me a wheelchair for it. I didn’t know I could take my regular chair in at the time. I went to work for Box Wheelchairs six years ago, and part of his product was a WCMX chair. He built chairs for Aaron and a lot of guys out there, so automatically it kind of just fell hand in hand. And then I fell in love with the sport, retired from coaching wheelchair rugby, and I do WCMX pretty much full-time. Katherine and I wrote the rules.

Villere: So you can’t say, “I don’t write the rules”?

McGuirk: No. Everybody wrote the rules. Katherine just put it into English. (laughs) So everybody could understand it.

Beattie: We were trying to base it off snowboarding.

McGuirk: Yeah, we took some rules—we lucked out there.

Beattie: There’s a lot of similarities between them.

We had a base to start with and then kind of adapted them further.

McGuirk: Luckily we’re not re-creating anything.

Villere: You’re not re-creating the wheel!

McGuirk: (laughs) Right. We’re taking stuff that’s already proven out there and saying, “We want to use this. We don’t want to use that.” Any sports organization does the same thing. We’re all the same. It’s just a different way of expressing ourselves.

Villere: Did you do anything with the Paralympics?

McGuirk: As an athlete, I was in Sydney in 2000 and have a gold medal.

Villere: Wow!

McGuirk: And in 2012 I was assistant coach and we won a bronze medal.

Villere: And the gold medal was in rugby?

McGuirk: Yeah. Rugby has its own sport for a gold medal. Australia won the gold that year.

It’s probably 8 to 12 years down the line to get WCMX into a Paralympic sport, but some of the things we’re doing right now with it are setting us up for that. But it’s still pretty far away.

Villere: Do you have connections with them?

McGuirk: I was involved with wheelchair rugby when we got to the Paralympics and I saw what we needed to do to get to the Paralympics, so I already have a general idea what it takes. I’ve been talking to surfing and a couple other people out there who are trying to get their sport in and the problems that they’re having. Knowing that we only have 150, maybe 200 athletes out there in WCMX throughout the world, I know it’s a hard press without the level of competitions and qualifiers and the list goes on and on. And we don’t even have a classification system. So there’s a lot to it. But yeah, I already have a general idea of what it will take.

Villere: You’ve got to get your numbers up?

McGuirk: The numbers are the biggest thing. You get the numbers up and everything else will fall into place, because I can say, “I’ll use wheelchair baseball’s classification,” or “I’ll use this classification system.”

Villere: Because they’re already approved?

McGuirk: Yeah, something that’s already out there. I’m not really too worried about that end of it. It’s more of getting our numbers. We still need the Australia area, New Zealand, China, that whole area, there’s maybe five guys down there, and we need 25 guys down there. It’s one of those things. Germany, the Europeans, their numbers are pretty good for us, and the States’ numbers are pretty good for us. But still, it’ll be a long road. I know it. I want to get us into the X Games, into something else.

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Villere: Have you talked to them?

McGuirk: I haven’t personally talked to them, but they’ve been talked to. They know we’re out here.

Villere: Have you talked to Amy Purdy?

McGuirk: No.

Beattie: I used to be on the adaptive skate team. Adaptive Action Sports, her nonprofit, they had a skate team for a while. They’re pretty much all snowboarding now. But I was there.

Villere: She got the motocrossers with disabilities into the X Games?

McGuirk: Part of the reason that we’re not in an X Games is because nobody’s built a course for us that inclusive of both skateboarding and WCMX. We can use their street skate-park, but there’s nothing for us to do there. We can use their bowl, but once we drop into it, we’re done. So there’s talks right now going on about trying to have a Lego park where we can take some of the skateboarder stuff out and put WCMX stuff in. Once that happens, now we at least have a park that we can go ride at a function like that. So yeah, it’s one of those little pieces at a time. I am talking to park builders right now trying to get something like that going. It’ll probably be another six months or a year before that’s off the ground and we can start doing some testing.

Villere: The cool thing with the X Games is that they build stuff and modify it.

McGuirk: That’s just it. Being able to go in and say, “OK, we only need little things modified,” instead of, “I need you to build me this $15,000 skate-park just for WCMX,” they’re going to go, “No.” We’re already building a $15,000 park. I’d rather add $2,000 to that build and be able to take this part out and put that part in and say, “Now we’re having fun.”

I almost think there’s two different people running the winter X Games. Winter seems to have a lot more adaptive sports in it, and summer has nothing in it. Seven years ago, we put a bad taste in their mouth.

Beattie: It’s important to have an expression session, they used to do an one at the X Games, and that stopped, I don’t know, maybe five years ago.

McGuirk: Yeah, there was an unfortunate accident that didn’t quite go the way it should have.

Villere: Oh, an accident?

McGuirk: Yeah, but when you’re going to the X Games, you’re going in there on your dime, and when something happens to you and you come around and sue them—

Villere: Oh, shoot. I didn’t know behind the scenes what had happened.

McGuirk: We’ll get there eventually, and I think having a skate-park and being able to show them, “Hey, we can use this existing equipment,” then that will be a really, really good push. And also, it’s really hard for us, too, because I don’t feel that we have enough athletes who are at the same caliber.

Villere: You’ve got to get them at that age—

McGuirk: Yeah, I mean, we’ve got kids we’ve had for two or three years. It’s hard, too, because we don’t have enough athletes at the same caliber. We have Aaron and then we have four other guys. And so is it entertaining?

Villere: And women?

McGuirk: The actual women’s competition was the hardest to judge this year because they were so close-knit. They were close in a lot of stuff. You look at Aaron and yeah, it’s hard to go in and say, “OK, we’re judging second, third, and fourth.” But that’s pretty much what you’re doing. I think it’s getting there. Guys are starting to ride more, starting to pick up their game. There’s more stuff going out there. And if you had a park where you can set up a back flip to where, I’m setting up something really similar to Woodward so Katherine can go in there and do a backflip in competition. Blake can do a backflip. So I can get five people that if I set it up right, they can do this stuff in competition that only one person in the world can do here.

Am I equally in the playing field? Yeah, I am kind of doing a little bit of equaling things out. But I can guarantee you that Aaron will find something that nobody thought of and will do something in that competition, even knowing that everybody’s set up to do the same stuff. To air out of a corner for at first time, he’s been wanting to do that forever and a day. And that’s ridiculous, for a wheelchair to air out of a corner and air back in. Unbelievable.

Beattie: I can’t even figure out—

Villere: What does that mean, air—

Beattie: You’ll see a lot of times wheelchairs will just go up to the corner, they’ll just go straight out and land on the deck. He comes at it on an angle, gets his chair out, and goes back in.

Villere: Oh, how cool! So he did a pivot in midair and back in?

McGuirk: Yeah. I can remember Aaron and I sitting around and talking and saying, “One day I want to do this.” And that was three years ago. Three years of him thinking about it to where he did that kind of thing. And there’s where Aaron for the sport is unbelievable, because every time that he does something and then somebody else does it, that means he’s got to do something else, and everybody just keeps feeding off that, do it or not. That’s exciting. That gives you adrenalin to go to the park and try some of the little things that you’re like, “If Aaron can do that, I can slash side no problem. I can caster-tap that. I can get a wheel out there.”

It definitely is a thriving thing to have those athletes out there who are doing that stuff. [German WCMX star] David Labuser saw Aaron air out and then he tried something new. And I can almost guarantee it was because of what Aaron did, is why he tried what he did. And he pulled it off. Now he’s going, “I can do this. Now I can set myself up for even more.” Now the number three and four guys on the board are looking at that going, “I’ve got to do that. I’ve got to do that.” It’s pretty awesome to see where the sport’s going, to where you have a guy who’s been doing it since he was nine years old still at 26-ish moving the sport more forward than anybody else out there. It’s his progression, I think marriage was the best thing that ever happened to him.

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Villere: Why?

Troy McGuirk: Because his game was elevated because of what—

Villere: It’s usually the opposite.

McGuirk: Exactly. That’s why I said, “You’ve got to stay around.” It’s unbelievable what Aaron’s gained just in a year of being married, matured and everything else. And that’s age, too.

Villere: Marriage will age you.

McGuirk: (laughs) That’s after a couple of years.

Katherine and Chet were then joined by an up-and-coming 13-year old WCMX star: Snoopy

Villere: Your name again?

Alyssa Montenegro: They call me Snoopy.

Villere: They call me Dog. (laughter) They were saying you’re the world champion?

Montenegro: Yeah. I was supposed to be competing in the kids’ competition, but instead I competed in the women’s, and I ended up winning first place with some other great skaters. That just happened right here.

Beattie: She basically kicks everybody’s ass. So we said, “No way are you competing in the kids’ competition!” She’s the best out there. And you only started, what, less than a year ago?

Alyssa Montenegro: Yeah. Like, I think beginning of June or so.

Yeah, that just goes to show how quickly the sport is progressing. When I was a year into WCMX, I still didn’t even have anybody to ride with and I was just working and carving and stuff, and since we get to go out here and practice every week, she came out of the gate and just exploded and has done really, really well. She’s already starting to learn backflips. She’s crazy. So who knows? By the time she’s my age, she’ll probably be a gold medalist.

Villere: What year were you born?

Alyssa Montenegro: 2004.

Villere: No, really, what year? (laughs)

Beattie: That was, like, my first day of college, when Alyssa was born. I was a freshman in college.

Villere: That’s when I bought my shoes! (laughter) Have you checked her ID?

Beattie: Yup!

Villere: So you’re the world champion of—

Beattie: —of the women.

Villere: And you thought you were going to be in the children’s division?

Montenegro: Yeah. I was supposed to be in the kids’ division. Isn’t the women’s division like 16 and up?

Beattie: No. In the beginner division we have intermediate under 16, intermediate over 16, and then women’s was better than intermediate. So it’s like the advanced competition.

Montenegro: I thought you had to be over 16.

Beattie: No, no. You just need to be really good. And the women’s competition this year was great. It just started a couple years ago, and I had been pushing for years and years to get a women’s competition because I was the only girl who was competing. And we got one, and a couple years ago in Texas it was a really good competition. It was a lot of fun. We had a couple competitors. But this year, everybody who competed, there were six or seven of us—

Montenegro: Yeah, I think there was, like six or seven.

Beattie: Everybody was so close. I thought everybody did great. There wasn’t one person where you were like, “She’s good, but maybe she could be in a different division.” No. Everybody really stepped up and tried new stuff, did great stuff, great runs. I thought our division was one of the most fun to watch.

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Montenegro: Yeah, Erin’s division is pretty good, too.

Villere: What grade are you in?

Montenegro: Eighth grade.

Beattie: I know, isn’t that crazy?

Villere: What kind of work do you do? (laughter)

Beattie: Do you know what you want to do when you get older?

Montenegro: I was thinking of becoming a lawyer in music.

Villere: An entertainment lawyer?

Montenegro: Yeah, so I would basically be fighting for the people who—let’s say a person got in a car accident, but they were a music artist or something, I would end up being their lawyer, trying to—

Villere: Oh! I went the other way!

Beattie: I thought you were going to handle music rights, royalty fees and that kind of stuff.

Montenegro: And then other times it might be like, “So-and-so stole part of my song,” and I could do research and figure out, “OK, is this true or not?”

Beattie: Cool!

Beattie: My mom wishes I was a lawyer.

Villere: You could still go to law school.

Beattie: No. Once I made it in the writers’ room, I was like, this is for me. It took just as long a course to make it there.

Villere: And you just went to Ireland?

Beattie: Yes to Ireland. People were fantastic. It was so fun. It was good that I brought crutches, because there would have been some accessibility issues, because Europe is not—there’s no ADA in Europe.

Villere: No there is—each country has something!

Beattie: Not to the standards that we have here.

Villere: Each country has their own standards, and on top of that, the CRPD, you know what that is?

Beattie: Uh-uh.

Villere: The Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities that the UN has put together.

Beattie: Oh, cool!

Villere: Almost every country has signed this legislation. It’s like the ADA. They sign, they ratify, and now they have to implement. Implementation is the toughest part, because there’s usually some financial issues with the government. How many curb cuts or whatever? I remember being in the subway system in Paris, and we couldn’t get out. There were signs saying “Accessible,” but there were just stairs. We had to carry people out.

Beattie: I found that all of the tourist attractions were super-great, like the Guinness storehouse and the Jameson tour, it was all alcohol-related. And a couple of the estates we went to, they had really good accessibility plans. But a lot of the shops, they’re all at least a step this high or they have stairs.

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Villere: Did you ask if they had ramps?

Beattie: There were usually just people there, and I’d be like, “Uh, excuse me!” and they’d be like, “Oh, do you need help?” and they’d just shove me up. But then I had my crutches, and I bought off-road wheels for the trip, which was great, because there’s a lot of cobblestones and stuff. I can get off a curb pretty easily, but with the off-road wheels, you just roll right up to it and push and you go up. But I ended up using my crutches for a lot of it, it was easier.

The elevators are tiny-tiny. We went to see the Trinity Library, and they had an elevator, but it was three buildings over and I had to have somebody take me there. It was just me and my mom, and I was like, “Oh, Mom, I’ll meet you in the gift shop.” Forty minutes later I finally made it down because you could only fit two people in the elevator, one person in the wheelchair and one person operating the elevator. But it was such a great trip. I’m excited to go back. We had our world championships here this year, and next year I hope they’ll be in Germany.

Villere: Germany is supposed to be really accessible.

Beattie: Yeah, that’s the big nexus of WCMX in Europe, in Germany right now. They have a big group like we do that rides over there, and so I’m trying to get them to do it for my next hiatus so I can go and spend a couple weeks over there.

Another thing I’ve found interesting, I’ve never seen this at any tourist attraction in the U.S., but at a lot of them in Ireland, they have the pamphlets in all the different languages for the tourists. They’re in English, but you can follow along in whatever language you speak, and then they had advertised for multiple different interpreters for all kinds of languages. Here, we would just have an ASL interpreter, but there they had several international sign language, ASL, BSL,…

Villere: KFC?

Beattie: Yes, all of them.

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