Special needs youth defies odds at skate park

Bodie Slaybaugh, left, gets a push from his mother, Joanie, at Big Spring Skatepark Thursday. Born with a rare chromosomal disease, it was questionable whether he would be able to walk. Skating defies the odds.
Photo by Charlie Denison

Bodie Slaybaugh is pursuing his passion of skateboarding despite being born with a rare chromosomal condition.

Photo by Charlie Denison

Charlie Denison

“Why can’t he skate?”

That’s what Renee Stephens asked Bodie Slaybaugh’s mother, Joanie, after Joanie expressed some concerns about her son trying out Big Spring Skatepark.

Born with an incredibly rare chromosomal anomaly called hypotonia, or “decreased muscle tone,” Bodie spent much of his first years connected to a feeding tube. There was concern he’d never walk, much less ride on a skateboard.

“I never wanted to be the one to tell Bodie he couldn’t do something, but his muscular deficit made us feel skating was likely something he couldn’t do.”

However, unlike other activities he’d tried, Bodie had a fascination for skating, a desire Joanie first noticed years ago.

“When we lived in Bozeman, the skate park was by the grocery store we used to go to,” she said. “Bodie would stop and watch them for hours. He just loved it.”


Making it happen

Thinking about his fascination with skateboarding and thinking about how far he’d come in his eight years of life, Joanie stopped doubting.

“He wasn’t supposed to survive, and now he’s walking and talking, so I thought, ‘you’re right, Renee. Why can’t he skate?’”

The day after Big Spring Skatepark opened – Aug. 14 – Joanie took Bodie to the park and set out to get him a board, which was easy to do thanks to all the help and support she received from the skaters.

Joanie asked Jason Stephens if she could still get a board, and he pointed her in the direction of the Black Market Skate Shop crew from Seattle, where she got the parts he needed.

Stephens then talked with the owners of Center of the Universe, who opened their store up Sunday so Bodie could get the rest of the equipment needed to skate.

“We went down there, built the rest of it and 10 minutes later we’re at the park and he’s going back and forth,” Stephens said.

Joanie was in awe, partly because Bodie was not treated differently because of his condition.

“None of these people wanted to help Bodie because he had special needs,” she said. “They wanted to help him because he wanted to skate. People were so accepting, kind, encouraging and respectful. It was amazing to see so many step up and make this happen. It’s really cool in so many ways.”


Finding Joy

Skating isn’t easy for Bodie, but his mother said it greatly improves his quality of life.

“He’s drawn to it,” she said. “He wants to keep coming back. When he’s tried other sports, that wasn’t the case, but he gets excited about skating.”

Staying cautious, Bodie does not skate alone. To keep him upright, Joanie and either her husband, Guy, or someone else at the skate park spread out on opposite sides of him and push him along. As Bodie picks up his pace, those assisting him spread out. The more they spread out, the more Bodie seems to enjoy it.

There is still risk of injury for Bodie, but Joanie wants her son to do what he loves.

“He could live in a bubble forever or he could live the life he wants to live,” she said. “If something happens to him, something happens to him. Something could happen to any of us just walking across the street.”

Watching Bodie ride, seeing his expression brighten, watching his body language loosen, is what makes it all worth it, Joanie said. And the more he comes out and rides, the more his mother is encouraged about his future, especially after doubting him initially.

“This was maybe the first time I didn’t think Bodie could do something,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let him do it, but he powered through, so this is a reminder: don’t ever say he can’t do something. Don’t let yourself go there. Instead,  let him rise to the occasion.”




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