Jack Van Hees, 19, has started using a wheelchair at the skatepark after losing the ability to use his legs due to Tourette's.
Jack Van Hees, 19, has started using a wheelchair at the skatepark after losing the ability to use his legs due to Tourette's.

Wheelchair skater in fight with own brain to make legs work

The community has rallied behind an Emerald teenager, allowing him to purchase a wheelchair suitable for the skatepark after he lost the ability to use his legs properly.

Jack Van Hees, 19, had just started skateboarding at 15 years old, when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with Tourette's, leaving him with a tic that restricted the use of his legs.

"I loved [skateboarding]. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't great but it was a really good escape and a really good time. It was just a great outlet," he said.

The tic started three months after the diagnosis, lasted for about three months and has recurred each year since.

"It was like trying to fight my own brain to get my legs to work," he said.

"I woke up to go to the bathroom one morning and I just walked again, it was the craziest thing. I never know when they will come back."

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Although this time round the tic restricting his legs has lasted about eight months so far, with no idea of when it may end.

While he was regularly at the skatepark hanging out with his mates, he was unable to ride because of his legs.

After a few discussions, his friend Aaron Lee started a GoFundMe page to purchase a WCMX 'freestyle' wheelchair, which would allow Jack to get back on the ramps.

The group raised more than $4000 and before Christmas Jack had purchased his new wheelchair.

"I could've been fine with my crutches and walker, but with my wheelchair I'm able to do a lot more at my workplace," he said.

"I can come out and have fun, I can take it to the pub or out for dinner, and even dance on the dancefloor.

"I can go anywhere and everyone's really great, they move out of the way or offer assistance."

Jack Van Hees, 19, has started using a wheelchair at the skatepark after losing the ability to use his legs due to Tourette's.
Jack Van Hees, 19, has started using a wheelchair at the skatepark after losing the ability to use his legs due to Tourette's.

Jack was in Year 10 at the time of the diagnosis and said he always had a sort of twitch in his neck, but one morning he couldn't stop moving his neck to the side.

His parents took him to the doctor where he was immediately diagnosed with Tourette's.

"I didn't really believe [the doctor] at first but a week later I started making little noises, two weeks later it got worse and the coprolalia (swearing) started," Jack said.

"It was weird going from this normal high school life to something so different."

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Since then he has learned to live with Tourette's Syndrome and continues to chase after his dreams, whether it be educational or at the skatepark.

He was recently accepted to James Cook University in Mackay for Pharmacy where he intends to continue honing his skills at the skatepark and work towards hitting a 12ft bowl.

"I really want to drop in on that, that's my goal," Jack said.

"Things that I didn't think were possible I've already done so I think I'm going to go a lot further than I've ever thought.

"The only time I haven't been able to get involved in something is if I haven't pushed myself hard enough to be there."

Jack said he wouldn't be where he was without the constant support and encouragement from his friends, parents and especially the skatepark community.

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"I owe these guys a lot. I couldn't have done it by myself," he said.

"The GoFundMe, that was all the community, people who didn't even know me.

"It was mind blowing. I was expecting it to be like my parents, a few friends, but in two days we reached the goal and its allowed me to do something physical again."

The organiser of the GoFundMe campaign, Aaron Lee, said he couldn't think of anyone more deserving and appreciative than Jack.

"Jack has been a big part of our skate community as a volunteer at our skate events and clinics, and as an avid skater himself, losing the use of his legs due to Tourette's had a big impact on him personally.

"We all wanted to do something for him to get him back out on the park where he belongs."

Mr Lee said it was important to create an inclusive and safe environment at the skatepark for people of all walks of life.

"A lot of the youth who frequently use the park can be categorised as people from low socio economic backgrounds who face a certain amount of obstacles and diversity in life," he said.

"Our programs aim to create opportunities for those youth to be involved in something bigger than themselves - a skate community.

"Our older members are good role models for the younger ones and we all are learning things from each other. It's like a big family."


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