tampabay.com

Guts, grit fill what's missing

A rare blood disease cost Justin Beauchesne his arms and part of a foot as a baby. Now, having tried different sports, the 18-year-old finds a passion in skateboarding.

By BOB PUTNAM
Published August 8, 2006


Justin Beauchesne unleashes himself on the half-pipe, tucking his torso into a crouch.

Suddenly, he pops out the other side of the ramp and scrapes the side of his board along the edge of one of the obstacles.

Beauchesne's feet and board soon part company and he kicks the air frantically before coming back to earth.

He tries the trick again. He falls and the board darts away from him. He gets up, retrieves his board, skates along the half-pipe's coping (or edge) and falls again, his expression never changing.

In this way, Beauchesne blends with the other skaters, all of whom attempt difficult moves dozens of times, crashing on the ramp again and again, all chasing the elation of nailing a trick once.

Beauchesne, 18, did this during a practice round at the Extremity Games, an X Games-style event for amputees held last month in Orlando. His intensity was as fierce as any able-bodied athlete.

He just happens to have no arms and only part of his right foot.

* * *

Beauchesne's mother, Peggy Yea, still remembers the night of Nov. 11, 1988. Her 13-month-old son woke up crying and vomiting. His hands and feet were black and purple. He was in so much pain his mother feared touching him.

Yea drove him to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Beauchesne had contracted a rare blood disease called meningoccemia, which restricts blood flow to the extremities.

Doctors were able to get the bacteria under control, but the damage was done.

They had to amputate both of his arms below the elbow and all of his right foot except the heel.

Beauchesne faced countless hours of physical therapy, tubal feedings, fittings for artificial hands and foot and dressing changes for surgical wounds.

"That was such a tough time," Yea said. "But Justin pulled through. The doctors all called him "the miracle baby.' "

Beauchesne was never held back by his physical limitations. He played baseball in an organization for disabled youths. He played basketball in a church league.

Then, six years ago, after playing Tony Hawk's video game, he wanted to try skateboarding.

Yea was worried.

"I've learned to not say no to things he wants to do because he always proves me wrong," Yea said. "Still, there were lots of concerns. I felt he could get hurt."

Beauchesne paid no attention to the potential hazards. His biggest concern was other skateboarders taking him seriously.

"It was a little sketchy at first," Beauchesne said. "I didn't know if I would be accepted or not. I always had to prove myself."

He started by sitting on a skateboard and wheeling himself around. He soon was able to stand on the board. Then he learned more difficult tricks.

Beauchesne, who moved to Parrish in Manatee County six years ago, became so good he started sending e-mails and video clips in hopes of getting sponsored.

His first response came from Garry Moore, founder of Amped Riders, an organization for amputee skateboarders.

"I saw Justin's e-mail and took a look at his photos," said Moore, who lost his left leg in an industrial accident nine years ago. "I was blown away by what he could do on a skateboard considering his disability."

Moore offered him a spot on the team. Last summer, Beauchesne went with the other riders to Woodward Camp, a 425-acre facility in Pennsylvania that serves as a training ground for some of today's top action-sports stars.

"(Amped Riders) welcomed me, and I felt really comfortable," Beauchesne said. "I didn't feel so different, like everybody was watching me. Before, I felt like a little dot of blue paint on a white wall whenever I skated."

Beauchesne had a team to call his own.

Soon after, he also had an event.

* * *

The inaugural Extremity Games was the first extreme sporting event for amputees. Competitors 13 years or older were eligible to compete for $25,000 in prizes in skateboarding, wakeboarding, BMX racing and rock climbing.

Beauchesne was one of the first to sign up.

"We need an event like this where athletes who are going through the same thing can compete," Beauchesne said.

In the vert competition, each skater was allowed a timed run scored by judges. Contests such as these tend to encourage fairly conservative skating because a time-wasting fall will cost a skater dearly.

As a result, Beauchesne didn't try anything too fancy. He finished sixth.

But in the best trick category, he took it to the next level. He pushed his skateboard up one side of the ramp, waited for it to roll back and used his shortened arms to stand on the board as he rolled to the other side.

The announcers quickly declared Beauchesne's feat to be the best trick of the day.

The crowd cheered. His mother's heart filled.

"(Justin) always amazes me," Yea said. "It seems like there's nothing he can't do."

Beauchesne, who graduated from Palmetto High in May, starts classes today at the Pinellas Technical Education Center in St. Petersburg. He wants to become a video editor.

But he wouldn't mind a career in skateboarding.

"That's still my passion," he said.

For Beauchesne, skateboarding is not just excercise.

It's also a way to become whole again.

ON THE WEB

For audio and more photos about Justin Beauchesne and the Extremity Games, visit sports.tampabay.com