This four-part series is dedicated to a great friend and leader who asked himself that very question. His decision to take a stand for disability inclusion not only altered my trajectory as an athlete, but created a ripple effect of interest and involvement by his company, Specialized Bicycle Components.
You can support more disability conversations like these by making a donation to Forrest Stump. Together, we are building a positive future for the disability community!
What Can I Do?
Greg Kaplan, Treasurer of Specialized Bicycle Components, and I were first introduced in August of 2017, by means of his mother, Gail Kaplan. Gail had learned about my newly formed organization, Forrest Stump, and my plan to complete a 1,500 mile triathlon down the west coast to raise awareness for amputees.
Without hesitation, Greg asked “What can I do?,” and immediately offered to support our cause. He sent over all kinds of gear including Specialized kits, bibs, shoes, gloves, socks, and helmets to outfit our team. Then, as we passed through Morgan Hill, CA, on our voyage south, he had another surprise in store for us. We were invited to Specialized for a VIP tour of the headquarters (including the Win Tunnel!) and to host a discussion about the barriers that amputees face in accessing the appropriate prosthetic technology needed to be physically active.
Greg didn’t stop there. He was somehow able to track down TOM HANKS himself, and presented me with a signed Forrest Gump marquee poster which read, “Run, Nicole! Run!” at the end of our 1,500 mile journey. At the finish line, I was also granted a running blade from the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Össur, a piece of technology I had waited 16 years for to help me run.
Now a year later, my running prosthesis has eliminated my back pain, lengthened the lifespan of my everyday prosthesis, and provided increased energy return to match the capability of my right leg. I have finally been able to push my limits as an athlete and train harder and longer without being handicapped by my prosthesis. I have shed minutes off my mile splits, and for the first time in my life, been able to set my sights on becoming part of Team USA in Paratriathlon.
Greg knew I would continue to need help as an athlete, and as a disability advocate with Forrest Stump, in order to achieve my goals. That’s when he decided we could expand the impact of our work together. We could pose the question “What can I do?” to other employees at his company, Specialized Bicycle Components.
So, in February 2019, I was invited back to give a follow up presentation on Forrest Stump to the employees of Specialized. I shared updates on my advocacy work, my goals as an athlete and amputee, and clips from our documentary film, 1500 Miles.
Through this collaboration, three incredible “Aha!” moments unfolded between me and the employees of Specialized, which has led to some unique partnerships and conversations on how we can expand disability inclusion at their company.
After my presentation, I met with three different departments of Specialized, including the Retül Fit Program, Innovation Center/R&D Test Lab, as well as The Specialized Foundation. In each meeting, the passion of the employees was evident, and from that, we were able to identify three core issues Specialized could help tackle as a company to expand access and remove barriers for amputees:
- #1 – How do we support amputee bodies in the Retül Fit Program?
- #2 – How can we leverage the Innovation Center/ R&D Test Lab to help create a properly designed cycling prosthesis?
- #3 – How do we ensure we aren’t leaving out students with physical disabilities through The Specialized Foundation’s Riding For Focus Program?
This was an incredibly exciting visit with a lot of potential. To find out more about each of these “Aha’s,” keep reading by clicking the links above, or scrolling through the posts, below, as part of this four-part series.
Want to support these efforts or more disability conversations? Consider making a donation to Forrest Stump, or contact Nicole Ver Kuilen (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn about gift opportunities. Want to bring Nicole into your own company? Shoot her an email with an idea!