“I’m the first female rider to do a backflip in a wheelchair and I’m looking forward to the day really soon when other women join me in that,” beams a suited-up Katherine Beattie, sitting on a heavily scuffed pink-and-aqua custom wheelchair early on a sunny morning at Venice Beach Skate Park. The chair was built specifically for doing tricks like that one, because in a sport like Wheelchair Motocross, more widely known as WCMX, riders need a rugged chair that can withstand any number of stunts or brutal spills these women might put it through any given day at skateparks in Southern California.
Beattie grew up loving action sports, skating in particular, but after a couple surgeries that left her unable to participate in those anymore, she turned to WCMX. “Once I got my own Box chair I knew immediately I was going to dive right into this,” she recalls. WCMX is a young sport, but Beattie likes to think of wheelchairs and skateparks as a natural fit from the beginning. “You know we have wheels, ramps are fun …” she says with a playful pause, “but as an organized sport it’s really come up in the last maybe 15 years or so.”
When she began riding in 2012, only a couple other women were participating in the sport. Since then, she says, she’s been lucky enough to bring other girls into the fold. There are now 15 or so women all over the country competing at a semipro level like her and her close friend and riding buddy, Jamey Perry.
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"I call her the First Lady of WCMX because she really was the first girl that really got in there and got rowdy wth the boys,” Perry says of Beattie. Perry credits her friend with becoming a role model to her and other women looking to get into the sport. Perry has since taken to the sport with an intensity that has taken her from novice to becoming the first WCMX Women’s Division World Champion in just a year and a half.
Both women have chalked up a lot of firsts not only for their gender but for people with disabilities in general. Both friends have made it their cause to help people overcome the fears holding them back from living a full and productive life. That starts with changing the stigma able-body people have about disability. As Beattie and Perry see it, “We’ll know when we’ve arrived when some able-body kid will come to the skate park and decide to use his wheelchair instead of his skateboard that day.”