Jimmy Pelletier received his first skateboard from Toys-R-Us in 1977 when he was six years old. He fell in love with the little plastic board and the joy riding it brought him. More than that, he appreciated how falling off taught him resolve. His childhood hero Evel Knievel said, “You’re never a failure until you fail to get up.”
In 2007, Jimmy was approached by a co-worker who asked if he was interested in running a 5k for multiple sclerosis. He agreed to lend his support, but five kilometers seemed like nothing.
“How about 45 miles, and I’ll skate it.”
Jimmy got the go-ahead to make his own event from the Multiple Sclerosis DC Chapter and he spread the news the way people used to–through word of mouth, phone calls, and blog posts. He ended up raising $2400.
After 10 hours of nonstop pushing, Jimmy collapsed at the finish line with one clear thought in his head.
“Wow! I want to do something like this for the rest of my life. I want to use skateboarding to help other people out.” The idea for DC Wheels was born.
CREATING A TEAM
A couple of months later, Jimmy was invited to perform a demo at Burn Camp, located in Keezletown, Virginia. Pro skaters Keir Johnson and Brian Tucci accompanied him.
Before the demo, the trio huddled together in bathrooms beside the basketball courts which would act as a stage. The crew rode out to music and performed tricks for an ecstatic crowd of campers. In the waning moments of the performance, Tucci split his board in two and rode the broken pieces around like roller skates.
After the performance, the three skaters were bombarded by campers asking for autographs on their pillowcases. In this moment, Jimmy had another realization.
“Wow! I gotta go home and think of a dream team and a name and do this for the rest of my life.”
The mission of The DC Wheels is to overcome longstanding stereotypes that surround skateboarding by helping others, reinforcing positivity, and supporting a healthy lifestyle.
Skaters sometimes get tagged with an outlaw label, which Jimmy and the team actively combat by helping others through their passion.
The team has grown to nearly 30 riders, with team members age’s ranging from 13 to 68. It can take up to a year to vet new members, but Jimmy believes in taking time before adding someone to the “The Skate Crusaders.”
DC Wheels rider Aaron Davis, II says, “When we do different events, that’s the time to keep it professional. There is no pressure to go do some amazing stunt or anything like that. Rather, we just skate and have fun as friends do. The DC Wheels gives us a chance to represent skateboarding in a positive manner.”
Over the past 12 years, The DC Wheels has put on over a hundred charity events for a variety of causes. Recently, they put on a kickflip competition for a girl’s dog that needed surgery. Participants donated $5 to enter, and the winner landed 95 consecutive kickflips.
The Skate-a-Thon is an annual 45-mile fundraiser that funds a new cause each year. This year, the Skate Crusaders will be riding for the Lupus Foundation. Around Christmas each year, Jimmy suits up as Santa Claus for his favorite event. He rides throughout DC with his team of elves, handing out food and clothes to the homeless.
“The opportunity to contribute charitably to medical causes and to the homeless in DC is something I never imagined I could do as a skateboarder,” says Tony Altar, another rider.
ON THE HORIZON
The future of The DC Wheels is simple: keep on skating for charity. But Jimmy and the team also contribute in other ways. They provided recommendations at meetings held for the design of the Rockville skate park that will be constructed this year. They hope their input helps create a skate park that is suitable for all different kinds of skaters and skill levels.
The DC Wheels also participated in the filming of a French-Canadian documentary called Skate Le Monde, directed and produced by Frederic Gieling. The documentary, which will be released later this year, takes viewers onto the streets and introduces them to the many skateboarding cultures that exist around the world.
PEACE THROUGH A PASSION
Jimmy’s dream is to create a worldwide network for DC Wheels. There can be Los Angeles Wheels, Barcelona Wheels, Tel Aviv Wheels, you name it. Beyond that, Jimmy believes skateboarding can help the world become a more peaceful place.
During our discussion, Jimmy mentioned another passion of his: ping pong. He talked about how in 1971, during the height of the Cold War, the World Table Tennis Championships were held in Nagoya, Japan. The United States and the People’s Republic of China were still enemies following the Korean War, but sought to mend their relationship.
Glenn Cowan of the United States was approached by Zhuang Zedong of China, though the Chinese players had received directions to avoid interactions with the Americans. The two spoke through an interpreter and exchanged gifts with one another.
In response, Chairman Mao stated, “Zhuang Zedong is not just a good table tennis player, he’s a good diplomat as well.” Mao invited the American players to China after the tournament, an invitation which they accepted.
In his memoirs, President Nixon said,“I was as surprised as I was pleased. I had never expected that the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a ping-pong team.”
If ping pong can reconcile nations, why can’t skateboarding?
“We can attain peace through our passions,” Jimmy says. “If people stop and think about how much fun they’re having with the person beside them, nothing else matters.”
Finnian Day is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.