By Kara Aiello
Some of the great interviews that I have done for mobileWOMEN.org stem from women in sports, and that includes women with disabilities, which is a very exciting topic to expand upon. Katherine Beattie is one athlete who impresses and excites. Born 30 years ago in Los Angeles, CA, Katherine was born with spastic cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair part time for every day mobility as well as sport. Katherine competes in WCMX or motocross and has been involved with the sport for over 5 years now. She grew up in the mid-to-late nineties when everyone was a “skater kid” and into skateboarding and other action sports. She explains: “When I was about 25, I decided to get back into skateboarding, this time on my knees. And a year later, I met Mike Box at a Life Rolls On event, got my first wheelchair and the rest is history.” Katherine has competed in two WCMX contests with Rise AdaptiveSports, including last year’s world championships, where she came in 8th and was the highest ranking woman. “I have also competed yearly in the Life Rolls on Contest in Venice Beach, where I’ve competed in both skateboarding and WCMX.”
Getting more women involved in WCMX is one of Katherine’s goals as the sport gains more recognition. Between the Life Rolls on and Rise contests, there are four women (Katherine included) who competed with male athletes in WCMX last year. She is very excited to announce that her sport will be holding a Women’s WCMX division at the Rise Adaptive Sports contest in April and hopes to have 7-10 women competing. “In total there are not many people who compete in WCMX because we only have two contests at the moment. And although it’s growing, I’d say the number is about 25, with the majority being men.” Still, word is spreading about this sport and Katherine stresses that social media plays a large part in that education. “I’ve connected with many of the future female competitors through Instagram and, in addition, when I ride around in a WCMX chair, it catches lots of attention and people ask about the sport before I have a chance to bring it up myself.”
When it comes to competitions, although there are many WCMX events throughout the year, there are only two official contests currently, and both are held in the United States. Rise Adaptive Sports hosts a “world championship” in Grand Prairie, Texas in April and Life Rolls on Foundation hosts a contest during a They Will Skate Again event in July. The sport is currently growing in Brazil, Australia and Western Europe, with the epicenter being in Germany. Katherine shares that she would love to see some international competitions added in the near future, and since the sport is so young, the rules for each contest are constantly evolving. “In general, riders are judged on creativity, use of the course, and difficulty of tricks with points taken off for falls.” And although WCMX is not currently a Paralympic sport, skateboarding and surfing are being considered for the 2020 Olympics. Katherine is hopeful that extreme adaptive sports such as hers will become a reality at the Paralympics.
And that takes us to the action of the sport and what it is like to actually experience a backflip while flying through the air using a wheelchair. “Doing backflips is a pretty surreal experience. There is a lot of fear at the top of the ramp.” But Katherine shares that the fear is what makes it work. “When I’m actually flipping, there’s a split second where I lose all orientation and have no idea where I am in space.” But when she brings the chair back around to land, there is a feeling of cool like none other in experience. (See Katherine learning a backflip here: http://woodwardtv.com/video/first-ever-female-wheelchair-backflip-katherine-beattie/ )
One thing that stood out in the interview, regarding the power of WCMX, is how adaptive athletes learn chair skills and other benefits even if one doesn’t plan on competing. “I’ve found that, unless a chair user sustains a traumatic injury and goes into rehab, that no one really teaches the user how to control his or her chair.” What better way to learn than in the safe and controlled environment of the skate park. “A helmet and pads give you the freedom and confidence to toss yourself around a little bit and build vital skills that you can use in your everyday life.” Since she started riding WCMX, everything has become more accessible, and that includes steps, steep terrain, and uneven ground. “None of it is a problem when you have WCMX skills to fall back on.” Although Katherine isn’t saying that one needs to go out and perform backflips per say, she shares that chair users could learn to hold that wheelie, hop a curb or traverse a set of stairs. And find that dare devil athlete in all of us.