Blind Calgary teen breaks barriers as she ‘drops in’ on her skateboarding future

Ruttle, 13, is legally blind

Cassandra Ruttle, 13, sitting on a ramp at The Compound skatepark in Calgary. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY FAMILY)

Cassandra Ruttle was hesitant, reluctant, but confident in her abilities.

She remembers standing at the top of a ramp with a skateboard at her feet thinking “this is pretty nerve-wracking. It’s taller than me.”

And then she dropped in.

‘Dropping in’ to a quarter or half pipe is a rite of passage for skateboarding. Some say it’s the hardest thing to do as a beginner skateboarder.

Ruttle, who performed the feat on her 13th birthday, had an even bigger challenge than most. She’s visually impaired and is considered legally blind.

“It’s a ramp that you need to drop in, and you need to be fully committed to do it,” said Matt Janz, the founder of Skate Bats, a skateboarding program for youth with limited vision.

“You need to be fully committed to do it, otherwise, you’re going to slam really hard.”

But committing to the sport is no issue for Cassandra.

Her mother, Daniela Ruttle, said that ever since she was young, Cassandra has wanted to skateboard.

“She’s been really good for many, many years since,” said Daniela.

“She kept saying, ‘mom. I want a skateboard. I want a skateboard.’”

Growing up, Cassandra would skateboard with one of her neighbours, who shared his board with her, through back alleys and on driveways, until she eventually got her own.

A future athlete

Skateboarding started out as an extracurricular activity for Cassandra. But as she progresses, the potential of a professional skateboarding career is becoming more and more likely.

“Cassandra is a bit more of a daredevil,” said her mother.

“She’s the only girl here in Calgary with [Skate Bats] that does it.”

Her mother added that seeing her grow and learn with the sport makes it seem as though she can be a trailblazer.

“Watching her and listening and then learning, especially because she’s female, and she has the visual impairment – it’s sounding like
she’s got a lot going for her,” said Daniela.

“She doesn’t want to stop, she will go, and continue…”

Cassandra has the makings of a future athlete. She has the perseverance and relisence that it takes to succeed in the sport.

“If I don’t get it the first time, I’ll keep trying to try and try and try and try until I get it,” she said.

“I’m wanting to do it.”

Janz said that both Cassandra and her brother Curtis, who is also low vision, are paving the way for other low vision youth to have a future in skateboarding. He hopes to see them compete in the Olympics or Paralympics one day.

Inclusive skateboarding

Cassandra said the support she’s received from the community has been incredible. Her brother, Curtis Ruttle, has supported her and others like her through a new initiative he started called Alt. Routes.

Alt Route logo. (COURTESY MATT JANZ)

Like Cassandra, Curtis has about 10 per cent vision.

“Our main goal is to create safe, accessible and inclusive state park environments for low vision youth,” he said.

Both he and Janz have been working together to do some research and have created temporary adaptations to The Compound, an indoor skate park in Calgary, to make the sport more accessible for those who have low vision.

Their long term plan is to become a company that builds and constructs infrastructure and equipment that helps low vision individuals navigate all sports.

Skate Bats logo. (COURTESY MATT JANZ)

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