A blind teenager, affected in both eyes, makes professional skateboarders dream

Being shot in both eyes and completely blinded didn’t stop Zion Ricks-Gaines from skateboarding. It made him want to do it even more.

“I still want to go pro, I still want to be a pro skateboarder,” the 19-year-old said as he prepared a kickflip at a skate park in San Francisco.

He wants to share this enthusiasm with everyone he meets.

Photo: AFP

“I want to start more after-school skating programs for students. I feel like I wouldn’t have really looked that way if I had the sight,” he said.

Ricks-Gaines’ life was derailed outside a bar late last year when a man who had been drinking started shooting him and his friends as they walked home.

He was hit twice. A bullet destroyed his right eye; the other broke the eye socket around his left, puncturing the eyeball and leaving it deflated and withered.

Photo: AFP

“It’s like the purple of the night sky…without stars,” he said of his vision.

After a long period in the hospital, he was fitted for an ocular prosthesis.

Not content with a regular iris and pupil, he instead opted for an eye with the logo of his favorite skate brand, Spitfire, a smiling head of flames. He inserts and removes the prosthesis from its socket on demand.

Photo: AFP

Soon he was back at the skate park, doing what he had been doing since he was 12 years old.

“When I jumped on my skateboard, I felt I had something to connect to my old life,” he said. “I felt a weight on my shoulders.”

Anyone who has spent time in a skate park will marvel at the unlikely feats of poise and daring during a casual display.

Helmetless skaters race up wooden ramps, launching themselves into the air as their board twists and pivots at their feet, before magically correcting itself to land right side up.

The metal rails provide almost 2m of gliding glory on the board – or a shattering pain if it all goes wrong.

It’s tricky even under ideal circumstances, but more difficult if you can’t see the banks, ledges and curbs you’re trying, or even the board you’re riding on.

“When I approach a new obstacle, I usually feel it with my cane or ask friends what they see, how it’s set up, what should I be careful of,” Ricks-Gaines said. “And I progress and find what I’m most comfortable with.”

It helps that with seven years of skating, a lot of what his body needs to do is muscle memory, he said.

“If I want to land a ride, I know I can do it by committing and not being afraid to fall,” he said.

He falls again.

“All the time,” he laughs. “But that’s only part of it. I now fall more than before, but it’s not because of skating. I’ll try to skate on a ledge, the grind won’t work, then I’ll grab my board and start walking, and I’ll step into the ledge and fall.

The other skaters — who spray-painted a ramp with his name the day after he was shot — happily guide Ricks-Gaines through the park.

Dexter Lotz said being blindsided made Ricks-Gaines an even better version of himself.

“He’s always been positive, but now he’s super positive,” said the 24-year-old, who has been a friend for six years.

“It seems like he got a second chance and he really needs to use it… It seems like he wants to share that with everyone around him,” he said. “It’s obviously unfortunate what happened, but what he’s doing is magnificent.”

With a criminal case against her alleged attacker ongoing, Ricks-Gaines shows no signs of bitterness towards the man who lost his sight, instead focusing his anger on the gun violence ravaging the United States and claiming dozens of lives. thousands of deaths every year. .

“I personally believe we don’t need guns,” he said. “I feel like we’d be a much better society if we learned to do jujitsu or any fighting style and handle it that way and put the guns down.”

He said that one day he wanted to have children and be able to tell them about his experience, but what he tells them will never be negative.

“I could sit at home and just be sad because I don’t have a vision, but that’s not going to fuck me up, you know?” he said.

“I appreciate everything I have. Ninety percent of what you have is how you respond to it,” he added. “I feel like I’m really blessed to be where I am in life.”

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