Some wheelchair users enjoy Houston skate park challenges
HOUSTON (AP) — Gretchen Bailey, 34, has cerebral palsy. She grew up with her legs in braces. She remembers watching her brother skate while she remained on the sidelines.
The Houston Chronicle reports Bailey had dreaded the day — which came about two years ago — when she would be forced to rely on a wheelchair to get around. She knew her muscles would never get strong enough to allow her to move like her brother.
But on Sunday, a determined Bailey sat on the sidelines no more. She had discovered the world of so-called “adaptive athletics,” learning to let the wheelchair become a tool to participate in sports. The Spring resident knew she could fly in her red chair down the same slopes or stairs that others skated across.
As the sun beat down Sunday afternoon at the North Houston Skate Park, Bailey prepared to share her skills with others for how to maneuver through a skate park. She felt empowered and free in her chair.
“It gave me a chance to do what I wanted to do my whole life,” Bailey said. “I had always seen a wheelchair as an enemy, and not a friend.”
The afternoon marked a launch-date of sorts for a gathering Bailey aims to host once a month at the park. It’s where she practices every Sunday — the only day her husband Chip has off from his mail-delivery job. She calls the nascent organization WCMX Houston, an acronym that stands for wheelchair motocross.
The group, an assembly of family, volunteers from her church and young participants, gathered first in an air-conditioned room. Those who did not already have specially-equipped chairs picked from those donated for the day. They strapped on knee pads, elbow pads and helmets, some of which her husband purchased with his savings.
Among them was Bailey’s 9-year-old son, Cowan, who also has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He already knew how to do a wheelchair wheelie.
“Everybody ready?” Bailey called out to the group.
“Yup, we’re ready,” a young voice responded.
Four eager-to-learn kids and teens rolled out behind her to the park in a line.
Cowan first inspired her to pursue adaptive athletics, Bailey said. He saw her in the wheelchair and said it made him sad. Bailey did not want her son to live his life feeling that way.
Bailey found a beginners clinic for wheelchair skating in Dallas.
The North Houston Skate Park, where Bailey now skates, opened in August 2014. The Greater Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority had pursued the project, which it bills as the largest such park in North America. It’s free to the public, with helmets required.
Around 100 skaters come each day, Parks and Recreation Manager Treena Dockery said. But Dockery remembers noticing when Bailey began to wheel herself among them.
“It was amazing,” Dockery said. “I’ve seen her fall and get right back up.”
On Sunday, Bailey lead the way down a ramp. She took on a set of stairs, rolling her wheels over them one at a time. Cowan spun after her.
The pair paused at the top of ramps that ran down side-by-side, split by a staircase.
“Let’s roll,” Bailey said, counting down. “One. Two. Go!”
Down they glided.
Bailey’s efforts marked the first-ever organized wheelchair event for the park, said Sally Bradford, executive director of the redevelopment authority. They plan to open a BMX park next fall, where they hope to host more wheelchair events, too.
For now, Bradford’s reaction to Bailey’s initiative was simple: “We’re thrilled,” she said.
Leslie Marroquin, 16, wheeled toward the edge of a concrete bowl. She lifted her front wheels and edged forward.
Mike Box, 58, who builds wheelchairs, held the chair and pulled her still forward. He wanted her to have a sense of what it felt like before she would plummet ahead.
“I’m not going to let you go,” Box said. “I promise.”
Box holds a true passion for helping those in wheelchairs discover what they can do. The back of his baseball cap exemplified that with an embroidered hashtag, #PHP, which stands for people helping people. He lives in Wharton and brought many of the chairs for participants to ride.
Marroquin, whose family lives around Tomball, has been using a wheelchair for six months. Her legs are paralyzed, but her mother, 52-year-old Deidra Marroquin, had wanted to find activities still available to her. She connected with Bailey online.
Leslie had taken advantage of the opportunities that had come her way, and today was no different.
The teenager inched forward and back from the edge. Her parents, on either side of her, held up their phones to record her. Each smiled widely.
“You got this sweetheart,” her father shouted.
She tipped toward the edge. Whoosh. Down she rolled. Cheers erupted.
Wheelchair skating is an activity that might seem insane to some, but not to Bailey. “Life in a chair doesn’t have to slow you down,” she said.
With 15 minutes to go until the event’s end at 4 p.m., her face red from the heat, she decided to go for one more run. She strapped on her helmet.
“Back to work I go,” she sang. “Hi ho. Hi ho.”
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com