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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Kick up his wheels
At 16, Ryan Sheckler has money, media exposure, adoring fans and endorsements that include his own shoe. Little wonder the elite skateboarder always seems ready to ...
By BOB PUTNAM
Published March 15, 2006
[Photo by Rob Meronek]
Ryan Sheckler performs a kickflip at Skatepark of Tampa. His skateboarding talent was evident when he was 18 months old, and he turned pro at 13.
TAMPA - The autograph seekers mill about at Skatepark of Tampa, awaiting the arrival of Ryan Sheckler, one of the sport's emerging stars.
Suddenly they take off en masse, unscrewing the tops of their Sharpies as they pounce on their prey.
Sheckler accommodates them all, staying nearly an hour to sign skateboard decks, shoes and magazines before heading inside to perform in the Tampa Pro, an annual event featuring some of skateboarding's elite.
"It's awesome to come to something like this and see so many people who admire what you do," Sheckler said. "It's even more amazing to see how far my career has come."
With his freakish ability and unlimited potential, Sheckler has thrown the skateboarding world for a loop. The shredder extraordinaire has graced the cover of numerous magazines, appeared on MTV's Cribs, traveled the world for competitions, earned six figures annually in winnings and endorsement deals and landed on rapper 50 Cent's speed dial.
All by 16 years old.
It became clear Sheckler had an uncommon talent for riding a skateboard when he was 18 months old.
"I could sit on one knee then," he said.
Three years later, his parents, Randy and Gretchen Sheckler, bought him a skateboard for Christmas.
The sport pretty much consumed Ryan's life after that.
By age 4, he could stand up and ride. He learned to perform the difficult kick-flip and was a California Amateur champion by the time he was 6.
He spent the next few years sliding on rails with such skill that, by 10, he had already gained several major sponsors and was entering contests featuring veteran skateboarders more than twice his age.
Around the same time, his father, a mechanical engineer, built a mini skate park in their backyard. That allowed Ryan to practice 22 hours a week. In fact, he would ride so often his dad put up lights.
"It was tough to get him inside the house," Gretchen said.
The work paid off. Ryan routinely came home with a bagful of medals from competitions and was so good he was essentially kicked out of amateur competitions. On the day of his 13th birthday, he decided to turn pro.
In 2003, Ryan won gold at the X Games, becoming the only competitor to land every trick he tried in street skateboarding.
That same year, he won titles at the Gravity Games, the Vans Triple Crown and World Cup Skateboarding championships.
Those heroics received unprecedented attention as Ryan had to cope with the blitz of his newfound fame.
It seemed everyone - fans, corporations, reporters - wanted a piece of him. He obliged, appearing in movies, commercials and television spots. He also had endorsement deals with Boost Mobile, SoBe beverages, Almost Skateboards and Etnies Shoes.
He kicked off this year with new kicks as Etnies debuted a Sheckler shoe.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined anything like this happening to him when he started skateboarding," said Gretchen, who also is her son's manager.
* * *
By amassing a small fortune in contest winnings and endorsements, Ryan has been able to load up on sick bling. He downloads skating footage on his Apple iBook, wears Volcum Smuggler jeans and a $245 Gucci belt with a gold G buckle, rides Honda minibikes, a Range Rover and a BMW.
"This is always what I hoped it would be like," Ryan said.
Still, there are times when Ryan wonders if he could just skate and be another 16-year-old.
That's hard to do, considering he gets 7.2-million hits on his Web site a year and more than 700 messages a week in his e-mail inbox, mostly from girls.
"I really don't know what it's like to have a normal childhood," Ryan said.
He tried to live one last year as a freshman at Sam Clemente High School in California. He even wrestled as a 103-pounder.
"I made it through the whole season, too," he said.
But the nonstop touring was too much. Ryan went back to fulfilling his scholastic requirements on a homeschool schedule custom-fit to reach his potential in skateboarding.
"We've worked really hard as a family to let him be a kid," Gretchen said. "He try to keep him grounded by making him do the dishes or taking out the trash. But it's difficult. A few weeks ago we were in Australia and 50 Cent was there, calls him on his cell phone and tells him to come backstage for his concert.
"These things don't happen to kids every day."
AGE: 16 HEIGHT: 5 feet 4
EIGHT: 107 pounds
FAMILY: Parents Gretchen and Randy Sheckler, brothers Shane and Kane STARTED SKATING: 1993
STARTED COMPETING: 1997
TURNED PRO: 2003
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: 1996 - California Amateur Skating League 10 & Under state champion; 1997 - CASL 14 & under state champion; 2003 - won gold at X Games (street); 2004 - Took first in U.S. Skateboarding Championships, Pomona, Calif.; 2005 - repeatedly took first in Dew Action Sports Tour.
ADVICE TO YOUNG SKATERS: "Have fun and skate as much as you can."