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Tony Hawk calls Sky Brown ‘a unicorn’ on a skateboard

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Sky Brown is one of the best skateboarders in the world, and she has traveled the globe competing. When asked her favorite countries to visit, she didn’t hesitate.

“Australia and Paris,” she said with a wide smile.

Across the room, her father, Stu, looked up from his phone and laughed. “Sky, Paris isn’t a country.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, acknowledging her error but not letting her enthusiasm be deterred. “Well, I still love the food there, especially croissants, and the language is so pretty. I want to learn it.”

This would probably be a good time to mention that Sky Brown is 11 years old, and though her résumé and skills seem far beyond her years, in many ways, she is your typical preteen who loves learning Tik Tok dances and hanging out with her friends.

That is, she is your typical preteen who is looking to become Great Britain’s youngest summer Olympian ever next summer in Tokyo, with a legitimate shot to win a medal.

“She has incredible potential,” skateboarding legend Tony Hawk said. “She could definitely be one of the best female skaters ever, if not one of the best, well-rounded skaters ever, regardless of gender. She has such confidence, such force, even at such a young age. The way she’s able to learn new tricks and the way she absorbs direction, it’s so rare.

“She’s a unicorn.”

Lucy Adams remembers the first time she met Brown. It was July 2017, and Adams, then 33 and a seasoned veteran of the sport, was competing at the Skate UK x NASS Women’s Open Street Competition. So was then-9-year-old Brown.

Adams finished in third place. Brown finished in second.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve been beaten by a 9-year-old,” Adams said before turning slightly sarcastic. “So that was pretty cool.”

Despite the momentary bruising of her ego, Adams couldn’t believe what she had seen.

“I had seen Sky and her brother, Ocean, on social media, and they were always doing crazy stuff on there,” she said. “But seeing them in person, they were both so small, and she seemed to always be smiling. I remember watching Sky do a specific trick called a ‘blunt kickflip out,’ and then she did it on, like, a 5-foot ramp, and it was absolutely crazy. It was the best trick of the female competition by a million miles.”

She struck up a conversation with Stu at the event, and he casually mentioned that he was born in the United Kingdom and was still a citizen. They stayed in touch, and Adams kept up with Brown’s progress.

Adams is now the chairperson of Skateboard Great Britain, the official governing body of the sport for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. With skateboarding making its official Olympic debut in Tokyo, Adams was tasked with putting together the first team for the event. She knew Brown would be a perfect addition.

Brown was born in Japan, and the family split their time between Japan and Southern California, so competing for Great Britain was not the obvious choice for Brown. With her native country hosting the Games, it almost seemed like a no-brainer as to which nation she would represent. But her parents were apprehensive about the pressure. Was it too much, too soon? They were leaning toward not letting her compete at the Olympics for any country.

Until Adams made her pitch.

“We had serious concerns about it all until we talked to Lucy,” Stu said. “The biggest thing she said was Sky could quit at any time. Even if she made all through the qualifying and months going into the Olympics and then she didn’t want to keep going, she said it was fine if she pulled out. She said she just wanted Sky to be happy. I was like, ‘Whoa.'”

The laidback attitude was exactly what the family needed to hear. And Brown really wanted to do it. She begged and pleaded, and finally her parents decided to allow her to compete. But they made sure that she knew that if it ever stopped being fun, she could quit or take a break at any time.

“We are not a well-oiled machine, and our feeling has always just been, ‘We’re going to give it a go and do our best,'” Adams said. “We knew how young she was. We knew that she loved surfing, dancing, all the things she loves as a child just wanting to have fun, and we wanted to make sure she could still do those things and do them whenever she wants to do them and not have to knuckle down and focus in on one.

“So we were just like, ‘Look, just if you want to come with us, it’s just going to be when you choose to do it and however much you want to do it.’ If she had gone to one qualifier and realized it was too hard or too much pressure or just not fun, we would have said, ‘Yeah, no, that’s cool. Well done. You gave it a go.’ She’s obviously done quite well so far, but she also has been able to just live her life and enjoy it, and I never want her to feel as if she has to train or go to a competition or learn a new trick.”

When Adams got word that the Olympics were being postponed because of the global coronavirus pandemic, she called Stu, who was at the family apartment in Huntington Beach, California, with the rest of the Browns. Although it wasn’t a surprise at that point, following weeks of speculation, Adams wasn’t sure if Sky would be disappointed.

Adams didn’t talk to Sky, however, because she was in another room working on a Tik-Tok video. As it turned out, she was doing just fine with the news.

Sky posted a video on her Instagram account soon after and did her best to put the news in perspective. “It’s OK, it’s safer, and we really need to come together and focus on what’s really important right now,” she wrote in the caption.

Soon after that, Sky had to rely on her positive attitude even more. In late May, while training at Hawk’s facility, she lost control on the vert ramp and sped off the side, falling more than 15 feet to the floor. The footage from the accident, posted later on her social media channels, is tough to watch, as she waves her arms and legs uncontrollably, as if to slow her crash, and the video stops abruptly while whoever is recording seems to be frantically running toward her. According to Stu’s account on Instagram, Sky was in and out of consciousness and bleeding profusely while they waited for the ambulance.

He said she spent the night in the intensive care unit as she clung to life. She pulled through, and a few days later, she was well enough to update the world on her status in a heavily produced video from her hospital bed. She was diagnosed with multiple fractures in her skull, a broken left arm, broken fingers in her right hand and lacerations to her heart and lungs, but she is expected to make a full recovery.

“My helmet and arm saved my life,” she wrote in the description of the video on YouTube. “This will not stop me. I am going for gold in Tokyo 2021. Stay strong. Stay positive.”

Two days later, Sky was back at home and posting videos of new dance routines, complete with a pink cast on her arm and the same wide smile on her face. She returned to her board before June was over.

Sky Brown is just completing fifth grade, but she isn’t exactly a newcomer to the spotlight. When she was 4, her dad posted on Facebook a video of her at the local skatepark. In the clip, she stands holding her board, which nearly comes up to her shoulders, with a sideways baseball cap on her head and says, without taking a breath, “Hi, my name’s Sky. I’m 4. Check me out.” From there, she skates back and forth on a small ramp, showing off a confident display of kickturns, fakie tail stalls and fly outs.

Stu thought his friends would think it was cool. They did.

So did 56 million others.

The video went viral, and the family was immediately bombarded with requests from television shows around the world. It was the first time Sky’s parents realized that she might have an above-average talent for the sport. They continued to post videos of her tricks and development online, and the views and requests kept coming. They created social media accounts for fans to follow, and they were surprised by the overwhelming response.

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