by Marta Rhine
Today I’m meeting Justin Beauchesne, pro skateboarder and team member for Adaptive Action Sports. AAS is a non-profit organization which specializes in helping disabled youths, adults, and wounded veterans get involved in action sports, co-founded by Dancing with the Stars’ own snowboarder Amy Purdy. That’s pretty cool, right? Justin uses his passion for skateboarding to inspire others to surpass their limitations and explore new adventurous opportunities by bringing his own personal experience of loss. Justin lost both his arms and a foot to Meningococcemia when he was just 12 months old. But don’t let that give you pause, because Justin sure doesn’t.
Justin was kind enough to give me a tour of house he shares with his girlfriend. Among photographs of family adventures and a smiling couple in love are many trophies, medals, and memorabilia of his careers in skateboarding and even baseball. They adorn the walls and crowd the bookshelves, symbols of his many achievements and his dedication to living a full life.
I asked Justin how he has managed to keep such a positive attitude. He credits his mom, her support and strength, which he feels he inherited. “My mother has a very key personality and mainly strong personality…it didn’t bother me when people had their thoughts and their feelings…I was just normal to me, my personality was just normal.”
On whether he feels that losing his arms and foot has shaped his character for the better; had it actually given him more of an advantage? “Yeah, I believe it’s a huge advantage, to the right person. If someone can handle the hardship and the different things that life can throw at you… My opinion is that everyone has blinders. They see life straight-forward in a selfish kind of way. But what I’ve grown up with is that I’ve always known to be open. My eyes did not have blinders. I thought, ‘this is the real world, this is the way people react to certain situations;’ once you understand it, you can develop yourself around them.”
Justin recounted his story growing up in a school system that wanted to put him in a bubble, to label him disabled when he felt anything but. He had to fight to get people to see him for who he was. “I couldn’t just walk into a crowd and they liked me. I had to cater to the situation. So if I thought that I liked somebody, I listened to what they liked. So if they liked to play soccer and at recess they would play soccer, then I would play soccer.” His philosophy was to be known for being none other than just ‘Justin’. He took himself into all groups and all situations and didn’t limit himself to any specific crowd. So he wasn’t just Justin the (fill in the blank); he did it all and, as he put it, “Was always around.” Meeting new people was important to expanding his horizons. “When you meet open-minded people, it opens up your world to so many multiple different things.”
In spite of feeling and wanting to run along with everyone else, Justin was held back. Not by his physical state, but by a word: ‘disabled’, which he equates to being branded and which he has worked so hard to not be defined by. “That word…it’s just like when you get arrested, every time someone pulls your name up, they see that. So every time someone pulls my name up, they see that word, ‘disabled’. He goes on to explain how shallow that word can be, lacking in detail that describes just how capable he actually is. “That word is the most negative thing you can throw at somebody with a deformity.” He remembers being in the same classes with persons with disabilities. The trouble was that a person with a cognitive disability shared the same program with a person missing a limb, or in the wheelchair. “It was the great fight…to get out of it.” He had to prove himself with a multitude of tests, including psychological and such. In the end, about a month before his mother decided to sue the system, he got his wish to join all the other kids in a regular school schedule, albeit with a helper.
His interest in skateboarding started with a school report on the sport and a book on pro skateboarder Rodney Mullen. Since then, Justin immersed himself into the world of skateboarding and started working on his own signature move, a handstand which took him a year to master. Multiple falls, bumps, and bruises behind him he debuted his new moves at the opening of a new skate park. “I went out there and got a bunch of speed and did a headstand across the park. Landed it, and you about thought it was the world series. People freaking out, cameras, reporters grabbing me and asking me ‘What’s your name kid?’ and that’s what started it.” How did that moment feel? “It’s indescribable.” By the end of that month he had a sponsor and was going across the Tampa Bay area skating. He started to do things his own way, shaping it all to suit him. By the end of the year he had seven sponsors and eventually his biggest goal came true: The X Games. “What I learned that first year was that celebrities are human beings. I had to have someone knock me on my ass one day and remind me that I’m still just Justin.”
Skating has opened up many doors for Justin and because of it he’s traveled and met people influential in the sport from all over the country. Skating with Amped Riders Club in the Extremity Games and guiding others to have fun is what he’s all about. “I just go out there and have fun. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care about winning or losing anymore. It’s just fun.” What does the future hold for Justin? “I want to teach people, and I just want to live happy. I want to feel comfortable, teach people, and just live life.”