Amputee Athletes Go for the Extreme

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By Miki Fairley
Extreme sports enthusiast and BK amputee, Tim Sutherland, flies through the air as he starts the bike track. Photos courtesy of CPI.
Extreme sports enthusiast and BK amputee, Tim Sutherland, flies through the air as he starts the bike track. Photos courtesy of CPI.

"I think the O&P Extremity Games are groundbreaking. In 20 years I really think there will be several hundred athletes involved in this."-Buddy Elias, amputee skateboarder, snowboarder.

A new venue for extreme sports enthusiasts who have limb loss or difference opens this year as College Park Industries (CPI), Fraser, Michigan, hosts the first O&P Extremity Games July 28-30 in Orlando, Florida.

At press time, athletes were preparing to participate in skateboarding, wakeboarding, rock climbing, and BMX biking. There's also a chance to win cash prizes along with the thrills: first-place winners capture $5,000 per competition; second-place winners take home $1,000 per competition, and third-place winners net $250 per competition, for a total cash purse of $25,000, plus non-cash prizes.

Exhibition sports that may join the competitive roster in coming years also will be featured. An outstanding one is the Wounded Warrior Project Kayak Exhibition Saturday, July 29, which is a race showcasing the abilities of amputee solders from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other exhibition sports include motocross racing, skydiving, kickboxing, karate, and fourwheeling.

On Sunday, July 30, there is free Instructional Sporting Clinics open to individuals age 13 or older who have limb loss or limb difference, regardless of their current ability.

Buddy Elias was the first to register for the event.
Buddy Elias was the first to register for the event.

Among star competitors will be Chad Crittenden, Season 9 Survivor: Vanuatu, Islands of Fire, competing in BMX biking; and Garry Moore, founder of Amped Riders, competing in skateboarding. A special guest of the games is Jon Comer, who will help judge the skateboarding competition as well as conduct skateboarding clinics. Comer, who lost a leg at age seven, is a professional skateboarder, Skatewave professional athlete, skate park designer, and star of the award-winning documentary Never Been Done. What triggered the idea for the Extremity Games? Eric Robinson, president of CPI, who is himself a passionate athlete and sports enthusiast, said the company realized that "we weren't out there in terms of our products" in Paralympic sports and other events. "Paralympic events are generally flat track, straight ahead, no uneven ground; downhill skiing also doesn't require an all-terrain foot like ours," he said.

Then came that "eureka moment" when they realized that CPI was getting calls from firefighters, surfboarders, skateboarders, and others-those who need a foot like College Park's. "For instance, a smokejumper in California was telling me that he couldn't wear any other foot than College Park's when firefighting," said Robinson. "He said that with other feet he can't walk the hills, can't run, and can't descend. So we started looking at sports where our foot shines. Our products are a perfect fit for extreme sports. The CPI team said, Let's bring it all together'-and the O&P Extremity Games was born."

Craig Demartino's ascent of El Capitan.
Craig Demartino's ascent of El Capitan.

Amputees are revved up for the Games. Buddy Elias was the first person to register. "I can hardly express it in words; I'm so excited about it! People will look back on us as pioneers: Look what these guys started. It's phenomenal what CPI and other companies are doing. I don't think there's any disability that can stop us." Before he finally saw a doctor and underwent a transtibial amputation, Elias had amputated several toes himself trying to stop the progression of Buerger's disease, a rare autoimmune disorder triggered by tobacco use.

Craig DeMartino, who lost his right foot after a harrowing climbing accident in Colorado which nearly took his life, said, "I'm getting really psyched to compete. I'm also really excited to see others who are fighting hard to challenge the perception of 'disabled' people...It gives us all a chance to get out there with like-minded people doing what we love." DeMartino, along with teammate Hans Florine, climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California, in 14 hours June 5; the previous climb had taken four days.

Cara Fortunato coaching basketball and on the climbing wall.
Cara Fortunato coaching basketball and on the climbing wall.

Cara Fortunato, who lost a leg above the knee in an accident with landscaping machinery, describes the Games as an "adventure." Fortunato has loved sports since she was a child. As she adjusts to a new life, she has found a rewarding career as a girls' basketball coach and wants to continue in sports as both vocation and avocation for the rest of her life.

These are among the many athletes looking forward to living the extreme. Elias urges others, "Don't let yourself or anyone else put barriers around as to what you can do. The people I go with [the Amped Riders and others] don't let those around them put limitations on them-they go for it!"