(Robert Thompkins grinds a handrail in his chair. Photo courtesy of Robert Thompkins)

(Robert Thompkins grinds a handrail in his chair. Photo courtesy of Robert Thompkins)


By Rachel Afraimi

With Robert Thompkins, 32, what you see isn’t exactly what you get.

Thompkins grew up skateboarding the streets of San Diego. However, when he was 23 years old, he broke his back and severed his spine in a cliff diving accident. In an attempt to repair his body, surgeons inserted a metal rod and four screws into his back, and removed one of his ribs.

Now ten years later, Thompkins can walk a very short distance, but he lives his life in a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he still has a skateboarder’s brain.

“I went through a real rough patch,” Thompkins said. “I was looking for a positive outlet. I would be on my way to work and look at handrails, and I just wanted to grind one or clear some stairs.”

In 2007, Thompkins decided to turn his dreams into a reality and started frequenting skate parks in San Diego.

By 2012, Thompkins was the first chairskater to manual 50-50 grind and regular 50-50 grind.

Also in 2012, Thompkins met Mike Sanchez, whose son, Angelo, is also a chairskater. The two started Looking Beyond The Wheels in order to increase the awareness around chair skating, and provide support and encouragement in the community.

(Photo courtesy of Robert Thompkins)

(Photo courtesy of Robert Thompkins)

Thompkins recently competed in the Life Rolls On  yearly “Balls to Wall” skate competition where he placed first in three categories.

“Awareness for adaptive sports is growing rapidly,” Thompkins said.

Robert is planning to go to Houston next month for an American Amputee Society event.

“I can honestly say that my injury put me to the test and made me into a better person,” Thompkins said.

Thompkins even went back to school and finished a vocational degree in mechanical engineering and has a career as a technician.

“What I have learned is to keep living your life and don’t allow your situation define your life.”

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