An inclusive community celebrating courageous and empowering women

Tracie Garacochea

Skateboards slap the concrete. It's Saturday morning in Venice, California, and this skatepark has an ocean view (like most things here). The light breeze and patches of shade from the towering palm trees make the 100-degree heat bearable. When Tracie rolls up, she's greeted with high fives, fist bumps and hugs before chatting with me.

She uses the words "magical", "joyful" and "fabulous" multiple times each throughout our conversation. After 40 minutes of talking, I jump up and shake out my right leg, telling Tracie it had fallen asleep. I realize my own words and for a second, regret saying that to her for obvious reasons. She responds by saying she can't feel her legs at all anymore so it's all good, followed by a genuine laugh. 

Meet Tracie.

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On being involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF):

They are the best, best, best. This organization is just magical.

There was a time when I wasn't broken enough yet to have a chair and I was still walking with a cane. Long story short, I went with these kids to a skatepark where I tried a chair. I remember one woman explained to me that "a chair is a tool". From there, I was sold. I ordered my first chair. There was a lot less pain. There was a lot more joy, and there still is so much joy because it's people like you. Nobody looks at you funny for being in a chair. It's so supportive -- there's hugs and kisses and community but are you ready for the real magical part?

CAF gives grants for athletic equipment -- but you don't just get the equipment. You write this letter and someone else writes a letter on your behalf and you sign a contract saying that you'll help other people if you receive the grant. I got a grant for my second skate chair. So when you see the CAF events, people are always helping other kids and fostering community. There's a lot of joy in helping other people. I would love to see more of that.

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On helping others and finding your joy:

I like to do things for people -- thats been my life and it's what brings me joy. It started way back when I was a Girl Scout or even before that. Wait, what was before Girl Scouts? 

In life, your joys can change -- and sometimes they have to change. We have to be adaptable, whatever that means.

I don't know because I've always had to change and that's always been a very natural thing for me -- and I will still have to change more. Right now I'm getting as much skate as I can while I can.

On why skating:

This is pure joy. It's going around the curves and the thrill of having the wind in your face. I was a runner, so maybe it's also the adrenaline. It's something I can still do. With skating, I still get to explore new things all the time because I can't do everything. It looks like I have the muscle but I'm not that strong. I don't have a grip. I have rubber rims on my tires and I wear rubber gloves because my hands don't close all the way, and the rubber on rubber gives me a good grip.

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On Cookie Box and Cookie Crumble: 

This is my custom made box chair. These chairs are incredible. When you get a kid in a chair that actually functions - not a hospital chair with arm rests like most people think of -- I've seen personality changes. Your chair is like your legs. It's an extension of your body - it's part of you.

As soon as a kid gets in a chair like this, the world becomes bigger.

I have shocks on my chair and the spokes are carbon fiber made by Spinergy. This chair is called Cookie Crumble and my other chair is Cookie Box because I bring cookies to the skatepark for all the kids. We're talking chocolate chip and M&M chocolate chip. The other chair has a cookie sticker on it. I should put one on this one too. I really should.

On working with kids:

I just do it because I love it. I got to see one of the kids I've known for the last four years skate at her first professional contest last week. These are joys. Hopefully other people will share in that joy. 

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On the hands-free drop in: 

I did it by accident the first time. It was at the World Championships this year and I didn't realize I had done it, but somebody said that I had and said that it was hard to do. I was like, "Oh, okay." I didn't think about it being a hard thing to do. I don't know why I did it or how it happened but now it seems to be okay. I'm still here. I'll just keep doing it. It won best trick at the OG Jam Series this summer.

On life without the use of legs: 

It isn't the end of the world. To have a wheelchair is pretty darn fabulous.

A lot of kids ask me about it and I let them try my chair and I tell them, "You know, if I were in school I would be able to ride my skateboard all over -- down the hallways and in class. This is my skateboard and no one will say a word. How lucky am I?" Other people say it's like having a bike strapped to your bottom. The kids really like that.

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On crawling: 

Recently, security at a big skate event claimed I was a fire hazard and needed to sit in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) section of the crowd. But I wanted to see my friends skate, which I couldn't do from the ADA section. I am okay with getting places however I need to get there, even if crawling makes other people uncomfortable. I don't need people to tell me where to sit. If I want to sit with my friends, which eventually I wasn't allowed to do at that event, I want to choose that. If I go to a restaurant, I want to sit in a restaurant chair because it brings me to table height. A lot of people don't want that -- and thats a choice.

On science experiments:

My thought is that the world wasn't made for all of us. We all have different things and there are many ways to get around.

I'm lucky enough to be able to crawl and stand up and I can walk with a cane -- just very poorly.

When I do, I tip over basically -- and it comes form my brain because I have a brain disease. I think about it like a science experiment and that kind of makes it fun, since I've always liked science. 

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On new skateparks:

I really only go to Vegas for marathons -- oh, and they have amazing skateparks. There's a variety of bowls and runs that are always fun. But every time you go to a new skatepark, you need to gain peoples trust.

Sometimes I roll in and people say, "Are you gonna be okay in here?" I just laugh and say, "Yeah, I think I'll be okay." 

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On fierce independence:

Sometimes I'm a little overly independent. I'm almost fiercely independent, which can be bad. People want to pull me out of bowls and then they're trying to help me but I'm just trying to do it on my own. I need to learn how to accept more help, but my thought is -- I know I'll really need help more later because I know that what I have will get worse. So I don't want to ask for it until I really need it.

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On women skating:

Everyone's got their own style and it's so beautiful. They're just flying. But there aren't as many women skaters and I've realized that often women don't really to compete. I try to get people to, but I get, "Oh I'm not good enough".

Women put themselves down and I'm in that party. I think instead of building each other up, we tend to break ourselves down. I see women at the skatepark watching their kids and I think, if your child is skating, pick up a board and skate with them.

"Oh, I'm afraid I might break." Well you might break walking in the sand. You might break driving in your car. And what happens if you do break? Well it can be fixed maybe -- maybe not. But chances are you will be fixed. And life will go on.

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On young girls skating: 

There's lots of young girls skating! I actually just trained a four-year old. It's pretty amazing for her development. We meet in the skatepark and we just go up and down ramps. She likes fast so I call her Fast Girl. She really enjoys it and wants to go steep, and she always has a huge smile on her face. She loves it, so why not?

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On getting me to drop in:

You've never dropped in? Well we'll have to change that. We'll get you set you up with some skate lessons. There's all sorts of girls thing you can go to and let me tell you, 

when the women get together and work together, it's pretty magical. 

Mia Bolton