ABLEBOARDED RIDER PROFILE: KATH KILCULLEN By Dave Timermanis
EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is based in Montreal and handles the distribution for Carver Skateboards. When we met up this past summer, he told me about some of the more unusual customers he’s encountered. From ship captains to emergency room surgeons, the range of people he meets is fascinating. Even so, nothing prepared me for the story of Kath Kilcullen.
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I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT when I got an email from the Department of Leisure and Culture of the city of Dorval (near Montreal). Two staff members, David Lebrasseur and Paula Chiarella, were contacting me to ask if I could help a local skater and surfer. Her name was Kath Kilcullen, and she was looking for a better skateboard. My first reaction was, “Cool!” Then Dave and Paula informed me that Kath had some challenges. As of November 2013, Kath has had 50 or more surgeries. She’s had at least 40 knee procedures, starting at the age of 13. At 24 she got leg braces and was in a wheelchair at 30. Kath became an amputee in 2010 and a double amputee in 2012. As if all this were not challenging enough, for at least 25 years she has battled lupus, an autoimmune disease, and she's also a survivor of a rare form of cancer.
Initially, I was shocked by the request. I couldn’t fathom why a double amputee would require a skateboard. Dave explained that Kath was using a small street skateboard as a mobility aid to help her get around town, and as exercise, which she could not get in any other way. But that board wasn’t truly maneuverable in the way she needed it to be. I’d never encountered anything similar before, and I wasn't sure how I could help. But as I began my drive to meet Kath, I realized I was off to meet a truly exceptional person. Kath and her husband, André, turned out to be one of the coolest couples I had ever met. Their home was filled with two dogs, a few cats and 10 grandkids. A “shaka” was painted on the wall of the bedroom, just below an unusual mechanism designed just to help Kath get on and off the bed each day.
I felt a little nervous as I showed Kath some different decks and trucks. But compared to her small street board with hard wheels, the possibilities for improvement became obvious — possibilities that Kath had already seen. Within minutes, Kath was seated on a board, surfing the living room with a huge smile of true joy. Andre looked on and began filming with an equally big smile. As this was taking place, it caused me to reflect on my own abilities. Kath truly was an inspiration to watch. The new board's turning radius enabled her to make the sharp turns from one room to the other, gliding with just her hands to push and balance. These maneuvers were not really possible with her old board, or even with her electric wheelchair, despite its having more controls than a car. A short while later Kath sent me a video of her “freeriding” indoors in the Dorval community center (thanks again to the coolest municipal administration ever). She was smiling from ear to ear. During the past year, Kath’s skateboarding sessions provided the workout she needed to gain cardio and strength and burn off the stress of her challenges as she headed for amputation number four. I talked to Kath after the operations, as we were still trying to figure out a better solution than regular grip tape, which was giving her scrapes where no one really deserves them. We posted our progress on Facebook, which caught the attention of Lonnie Morris, the president of a company called Slushgrip. Lonnie stepped up and sent us a couple of rolls of Slushgrip’s foamy grip tape, which really helped. Kath being Kath, she kept skating, scrapes or no scrapes. She told me that after the fourth amputation, the doctors were surprised at how fast she was rehabilitating — significantly faster than they ever imagined. Thanks to her training with the Carver, she had enough core muscle strength and balance to begin working with her brand new prosthetic legs well ahead of schedule. Then again, I can’t see Kath believing much in schedules. Kath has changed things in a big way in a small part of the world. The city of Dorval, which like many other municipalities long frowned upon skateboarding, has now classified Kath’s skateboard as a mobility device, up there with wheelchairs and electric scooters. She is allowed to take her deck into public venues, including places like swimming pools. Kath even has a
KATH BECAME A DOUBLE AMPUTEE IN 2012. AS IF ALL THIS WAS NOT CHALLENGING ENOUGH, ADD LUPUS TO THE MIX, AND CANCER! special label to place on her board, not unlike the common wheelchair logo we all are familiar with. Through her extraordinary efforts, Kath has moved skateboarding into officialdom, “fitnessdom” and even “rehabilitationdom.” She rides at the local skatepark. You can often spot her out there in the cool rainy weather, mixing it up with all the younger skateboarders who are aiming for the competition rankings. Kath has no fear or inhibitions. Her bravery and drive make it plain to all skaters that everyone has their own personal challenges to overcome. So, connecting the dots, we have some cool city staff, who contact a local skate guy, who does what he can — and then there’s an incredible woman who does what she can, resulting in doctors who are amazed. City bylaws get changed. Youth and adults get inspired and motivated. Magazine articles get written. Word continues to spread. Look for Kath at teamnanny.blogspot.ca or facebook.com/TeamNanny and watch this immensely strong skater challenge and expand the world’s perceptions of what is possible. CW
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Story about me in CONCRETE WAVE magazine November 2013! (shared with permission)