Meet Nicole Ver Kuilen, a 2019 Climate Ride Community Leader. Thanks to the Climate Ride Annual Fund supporters we have the opportunity to award a spot on Climate Ride to extraordinary young people who are blazing a path of transformational leadership in their communities.
“I am beyond honored to be chosen for one of the inaugural community leader scholarships for Climate Ride. Growing up, I didn’t want my prosthetic leg to solely define me or my passions in life. Through my education and career in sustainability, however, I realized it was a core identity that I could not continue to ignore. The same powers that exist to disrupt environmental protection and progress for our climate, also exist to marginalize communities like the disabled.” – Nicole Ver Kuilen
Nicole recently took home a silver medal at the Paratriathlon American Championships, and earlier in the year she was among a group of 11 amputees with the Range of Motion Project to successfully summit the 19,347-foot volcano Cotopaxi in Ecuador.
A film called ” 1500 Miles”chronicles the accomplishments of 27-year-old amputee/ultratriathlete Nicole Ver Kuilen [pronounced Vur-KAI’-ln], in which she and a support team of three additional women completed a two-month, 1500-mile triathlon from Northern Washington to Southern California, has been honored by two leading film festivals, the Sonoma International Film Festival and Taos Shortz Film Festival. The film premiered at Taos Shortz on March 22 and 24, and won the award for Best Documentary. The film will be screened in Sonoma on March 29 and 30.
The ultratriathlon event was undertaken to call attention to discrimination against aspiring amputee athletes who are denied access to state-of-the-art prostheses by third party payors, both governmental agencies and private insurance companies, allegedly to cut costs.
Nicole Ver Kuilen is an athlete.
Nicole Ver Kuilen is an amputee.
In Fall 2017, Nicole decided to attempt a 1500 mile triathlon: running, biking, and swimming from Seattle to San Diego to raise awareness for amputees across the country and the challenges they face.
This journey pushed Nicole to her athletic limit:
– cycling 100 miles a day
– climbing 65,000 feet of elevation
– swimming across the San Francisco Bay
For Nicole, the most difficult part of the journey wasn’t actually the distance – she had the endurance, will, and passion to make it through to the end.
Nicole’s biggest challenge was that her prosthetic is only designed for walking, and this is the only prosthesis that insurance affords her. (Prosthetics are prohibitively expensive – costing $5,000 – $100,000, while only lasting 3-5 years – and often not covered by insurance.) Nevertheless, she was determined to forge ahead, despite the limitations of her leg.
She knew her efforts would bring awareness to the struggles all amputees face in obtaining necessary technology and care. And that her success would prove she could overcome her disability and be an athlete. But at what cost? Would her only prosthesis survive the journey?
Nicole founded Forrest Stump as a nonprofit to advocate for expanded access to prosthetic technology and care, as well as raise awareness around the limitations and costs surrounding modern-day prosthetics. Nicole partnered with Snowday, a Brooklyn-based writing and production studio, to create a short documentary about her journey. Her vision is to tour the country with her documentary film – 1500 Miles – and educate people about the inequalities amputees face in America’s healthcare system.
> Age 27
> BBA ‘13, University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
> Prior to Forrest Stump, Nicole worked in the sustainability field as a nonprofit fundraiser, grant writer, and marketer for Clean Energy Coalition and the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
> Nicole is a Climate Ride alumna; she recruited a team in 2014, successfully raising $14,000 and biking 300 miles from Grand Rapids to Chicago.
“I am beyond honored to be chosen for one of the inaugural community leader scholarships for Climate Ride. Growing up, I didn’t want my prosthetic leg to solely define me or my passions in life. Through my education and career in sustainability, however, I realized it was a core identity that I could not continue to ignore. The same powers that exist to disrupt environmental protection and progress for our climate, also exist to marginalize communities like the disabled. Once I realized the intersectionality of our issues – health and environmental sustainability – it was clear I needed to make a stand for both. To use my voice for change. It was because of my first Climate Ride in 2014 – a 300 mile bike ride from Grand Rapids to Chicago – that I felt prepared to take on my 1,500 mile Forrest Stump odyssey down the coast. Today, I realize more than ever that I can be both an advocate for the amputee community, and for our climate.” – Nicole Ver Kuilen