Kanten Russell helps create a Make-A-Wish backyard skate park—but he’s the one who rides away with new inspiration and perspective
During my 12-year professional skating career, I was always known for “going big”—jumping down lots of stairs and railings, flying across gaps and buildings, and taking falls that even surprised me. Now, nearly 24 years later, having flipped from professional skater to professional skate park designer, I’ve learned something “big” that’s changed the way I’ll view the sport forever.
Yes, a skateboard can serve as a mode of transportation to get you from one point to another with both flare and style. But it can also serve as a model for some of life’s most important lessons.
Enter 11-year old Rocco Worley and the most meaningful project I’ve ever been a part of.
Rocco Worley enjoys his backyard skate park at the unveiling party in January. In 2016, Rocco was diagnosed with a rare blood disease known as Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. (Courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation)
Difficult times, strong spirit
Just before Christmas 2016, the Worley family of El Cajon, California, got some shocking news that would forever change their lives. After about two years of what doctors thought were migraine headaches and inexplicable neck and back pain, then-10-year old Rocco—an avid skateboarder—was diagnosed with a rare blood disease known as Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), which led to a tumor in Rocco’s cerebellum. So few people have had LCH in the cerebellum that there isn’t a treatment for kids like Rocco, so doctors decided to try several chemotherapies designed for leukemia.
Rocco remained positive throughout surgery and the numerous chemotherapy and steroid treatments.
Kanten Russell enjoying the newly created backyard skate park with friends and family of Rocco Worley. (Courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation)
_q_tweetable:Skateboarding teaches you that you’re going to fall down a lot and scrape yourself up, but you can’t let anything keep you on the ground._q_Despite everything he was battling, Rocco’s passion for action sports like skateboarding and riding scooters never waned. While he was cooped up, Rocco would make fingerboards and pretend to skate with them in his hospital room.
“It’s hard to keep Rocco down,” his father, Scott, beamed.
When asked what he dreamed of once he got out of the hospital, Rocco didn’t ask for a skateboard or a trip. Instead, he wanted something lasting. Something he could create memories from with the help of family and friends.
He wanted his very own skate park.
Turning a dream into a (backyard) reality
When the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Erickson-Hall Construction approached Stantec with the opportunity to grant Rocco’s wish, there was no question about getting involved in this project. Who wouldn’t want to play an instrumental role in making something like that a reality? Soon enough, we brought in our friends from Front Rock Enterprises Inc. for additional support and got to work on the build-out of the above-ground wood skate park that would live in Rocco’s backyard.
We set up several meetings with Rocco and his family and it became clear to me very quickly that Rocco had an exact image of what he wanted his skate park to look like. He would spend hours a day researching private backyard skate parks and pulling inspirations from designs he saw online.
The vision was all Rocco’s, and I was just skating along for the ride.
Part of the Make-a-Wish team: Kanten Russell, Rocco Worley, Kyle Berard from Front Rock Enterprises Inc., and Julia Hope from Erickson-Hall Construction. (Courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation)
A lasting impact
When it was time for the unveiling in late January, I was moved to tears. More than 100 friends and family joined in to watch Rocco try out his new gift, including his parents and his 10-year-old brother, Brody.
“I think it’s the best,” Rocco said of his private skate park. “Like, it can’t get any better than this.”
And then, after thanking the team that made his dream a reality, Rocco had a message for other kids battling a difficult disease. “You’ll get through all the hard times. Just try and push through. But once you’re done, you’ll feel great."
During my tenure, I’ve had the honor and privilege to lead the design process of more than 200 skate parks across North America, including the world’s first green skate park in St. Cloud, Minnesota; a skate plaza in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, which converted a brownfield into an active space to help combat childhood obesity; and the Alga Norte Community Skate Park in Carlsbad, California. But I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that’s affected me more.
Rocco Worley skates across his new backyard skate park in El Cajon, California. Here is Rocco's message to other kids battling a difficult disease: “You’ll get through all the hard times. Just try and push through. But once you’re done, you’ll feel great." (Courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation)
The work began late last year and ended in early January, but the impact of working on Rocco’s backyard skate park will last a lifetime.
While Rocco probably thinks we gave him the greatest gift of all by building him a private skate park, he gave me something much greater: inspiration, perspective, and the courage to always get back on the board. Skateboarding teaches you that you’re going to fall down a lot and scrape yourself up, but you can’t let anything keep you on the ground.
Thank you, Rocco Worley.
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