Skateboarders get a lesson in how to stay safe

Semi-pros demonstrate how they avoid the ER

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

There has been an alarming increase in skateboard injuries, due to the growing popularity of the sport and a lack of safety precautions on the part of its participants — all of which prompted the Park District of Forest Park to host a "Skate Safe" program on June 23 at the Bud Mohr Skate Park. A large audience of day camp counselors and kids were on hand to learn from semi-professional skateboarders how to avoid injuries that could ruin their summer.

The event was co-sponsored by Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR), as they have seen a rash of broken wrists and elbows in past years. Skateboarding has been described as the "No. 1 Extreme Sport" in the U.S. and there has been a 23% jump in injuries for kids under 15. Physician assistant Dimpal Patel was the spokesperson for MOR, as she helps surgeons repair the damage. 

Why was Forest Park chosen? 

"We were looking for the nicest skate parks and learned this one was very popular," Patel said. "We're working with Larry Piekarz [park district executive director] to create some excitement about safety." Excitement was provided by five seasoned skateboarders, who demonstrated safety techniques before executing some thrilling jumps and daredevil maneuvers. 

"It's good to know how to fall," one of them said, before performing a series of rolling falls, designed to avoid broken bones and painful scrapes. Patel urged the audience to wear protective gear, including elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards and, most importantly, helmets. What not to wear: headphones. As a day camper pointed out, ear buds are a bad idea because "you can't hear other skaters coming."

Other suggestions were even more common-sensical. Make sure the area is safe before skateboarding. Don't skateboard in the dark or in the rain. Stick with skateboarders who are your level and don't try tricks that are well above your ability. 

After the lecture portion of the presentation, the skateboarders wowed the audience with their freestyle stunts. 

Among them was 13-year-old Max Barker, who traveled with his parents, Brooke and Rick, all the way from South Beloit, Illinois. Max has been skateboarding for five years and is sponsored by a clothing company and a skateboard shop. Along with the other demonstrators, he received a small stipend for coming to Forest Park. 

According to his parents, Max is a "super-kinetic" kid, who enjoys challenging himself at local skateboard parks. He's had his share of injuries, including "busted front teeth." Nevertheless, he enjoys the freedom of the sport. 

Skateboarders like Max are non-traditional athletes and risk-takers. 

"They experience peer-to-peer competition you don't find in traditional sports," his father said. The sport's culture attracts free spirits like Max, who can compete with their friends, without structure, or adult supervision. 

Piekarz was on hand to watch the stunts. These were followed by the semi-pros giving one-on-one instruction to the day campers. When he was first contacted about "Skate Safe," Piekarz was immediately on board. "The Park is a great location and we knew we'd have a lot of kids here," he observed. "It's always busy. I get here at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and they're waiting for me to open the gate."

Shortly after the skate park opened 10 years ago, a skateboarder broke his arm. However, they've only had five ambulance calls since then. "They come here and take good care of the area," Piekarz said. "They want some new equipment and we may expand the area." 

Skateboarders can expand their knowledge about safety by visiting skatesafer.org.  They can also post videos of their best skate trick. This gives them a chance to win a $50 gift card. 

There is one catch: "Helmets required for contest entry." 

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