Capturing the moment
Traveling on a skateboard, Connolly gives fresh perspective
By Matt “It’s MillerTime” Miller
Come March 2, Kevin Connolly will once again see several pairs of eyes staring back at him — ones that are waiting for some kind of response. Yet, Connolly is used to it. He’s seen thousands of eyes staring back at him all his life. The 24-year-old Montana native was born without legs, from a condition called “sporadic birth defect.” Today, Connolly has toured the world, getting around on a skateboard and using his hands to propel himself. Connolly, his book entitled “Double Take: A Memoir,” and his skateboard will visit the Des Moines Public Library as one of four authors who will participate in the Journey Series sponsored by the Des Moines Public Library Foundation.
“Being born without legs has really never slowed me down because I haven’t known any different,” said Connolly, whose upper body is fully formed and internal organs are healthy. “I’m not different than anyone else other than I don’t have legs.”
But the way Connolly has gone about life is different. A Montana State University graduated who double-majored in film and photography, Connolly took advantage of studying abroad and traveling during his college years. Drawing stares from every which way, Connolly photographed people’s reactions to his physical state. Some believed he was a beggar; others saw him as holy man or a carnival act; some thought he was an Iraq War veteran.
“Everywhere I go, people look and stare at me,” he said. “It’s something that I knew I had to capture, so that’s why I decided to start taking pictures.”
By his senior year, Connolly had collected more than 32,000 photographs of people’s reactions. Some of the photographs were used to create “The Rolling Exhibition,” a display of artwork that has been shown in places like the Smithsonian Institute, John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Currently his work is displayed at Western Washington University and the University of Akron.
“It’s really been a surreal couple of years,” said Connolly. “It’s been a hugely humbling experience.”
Jan Kaiser, marketing manager for the Des Moines Public Library, is appreciative of Connolly being a part of the author series.
“I heard about Kevin more than year ago from a woman who had the chance to sit down for lunch with him,” Kaiser said. “She said he was amazing, and the library had to get him to Des Moines. We’re very excited to have him here.”
Propelling himself around on a skateboard not only has helped Connolly get from place to place, but the upper body strength he has developed has opened a world of recreational opportunities, too. He has participated in five Winter X Games, including winning silver in the 2007 monoski event. He also participated in the 2010 X Games in Aspen, Colo.
“The sport of monoskiing is drawing a bigger audience and more respect each year,” Connolly said. “This past year we were seeded right before the Men’s Halfpipe event, so it had a real good spectator viewing. It’s been personally exciting for me from an advocate standpoint, not just a racing standpoint.”
One would think capturing 32,728 pictures on one camera would break the device, but Connolly says the camera still works and he will continue to use it. His goal is to “constantly push and change the way people view disability as it’s related to arts, athletics and lifestyle.” He says he hasn’t achieved that yet.
“The operative word is constantly,” Connolly said. “At best, I’ve made it 10 to 15 percent of the way. I’m not a one-trick pony. I want to constantly push the way people look and think about life.” CV
Caption: Kevin Connolly is one of four authors who will speak at the Des Moines Public Library, 1000 Grand Ave., on March 2 at 6:30 p.m. Photo courtesy of Kevin Connolly