SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
People tend to stare at Kevin Michael Connolly. He's cute, fit, funny, and a champion skier. But he knows that the stares are usually inspired by something else. Kevin Michael Connolly was born without legs. It's not just that he didn't let his legless state prevent him from doing anything. As he writes in his memoir, "Double Take," being born without legs drove Kevin Michael Connolly to become a raging competitor at sports and life.
"Double Take" is a memoir built around some of the photos that Kevin Michael Connolly has taken around the world of people staring at him. He calls these shots returning fire with a lens. "Double Take" has just been published in paperback. Kevin Michael Connolly joins us from the studios of Peak Recording and Sound in Bozeman, Montana.
Mr. Connolly, thanks for being with us.
Mr. KEVIN MICHAEL CONNOLLY (Author, "Double Take"): No problem. Thanks for having me.
SCOTT: And that phrase, returning fire with a lens. What's what does that mean?
Mr. CONNOLLY: All the way back when I first began taking photos, I think it started in Vienna, Austria, you know, it was kind of this, especially after leaving Montana, this difficult point where I was more or less having to confront the reactions that I was being put in front of.
And I think that the first photo, the first snapshot kind of came from a more or less cathartic or combative stance in that, you know, if people were going to stare at me - and in some cases, I think even in the book I mention a group of teens taking a cell phone picture of me - you know, I thought that that at that point, you know, I had more of a right to turn it into an exchange - to fire back with a lens.
SCOTT: To get this out of the way, you were born with what I get is called bilateral amelia?
Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, which - I don't think really means all that much. I was always told - I actually had to look up the official definition when it came down to writing the book, because I'd always been told it was a sporadic birth defect or just born without legs. I mean, there was no other medical complications or anything else. It was just that femurs didn't grow into my hip sockets.
SCOTT: Can I get you to talk about the butt boot?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah. Originally it was a pair of deerskin pants. Basically, we had this probably where, since I was running on my hands, my parents would be saving all this money on shoes, but I'd burn out, you know, a half-dozen pairs of pants in a weekend. And, you know, it got worse when it was, you know, two feet of snow outside or just general Montana weather.
So, yeah, we started working on this thing called the butt boot. Originally, I mean, we didn't really have a name for it. I think we called it leathers originally. And, yeah, it was just a pair of leather pants held up by a couple of bright red suspenders that, you know, would protect you a bit when you were running around.
And as I got older and was able to kind of articulate my needs a little bit better, we actually started adding in plastic inserts, and gave it a sole, and you know, it actually, actually has a Birkenstock tread on it now. So we've even we've gotten a little style added into this device.
SCOTT: We should explain, you commonly do get around on a skateboard, not a wheelchair.
Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, I grew up running around on my hands, evolved into this butt shoe. Now my main mode of transport is riding around on a skateboard, or more specifically like a flexible long board. And you know, there's a couple advantages to that. I do use a wheelchair sometimes for like shopping and cooking.
For traveling and generally going about town, I found that a skateboard is by far the most practical choice for a couple of reasons. It's really fast and phenomenally fun. Being the first - I mean, I've gotten to skateboard the Louvre and the Great Wall of China within a 12 month period, which I don't know if many people can say.
You know, but all of the parts to it are replaceable. It's more compact. And those are both clear advantages it has over, you know, the wheelchair, which was up till then my alternative mode of transport.
SCOTT: Sarajevo was - sounds like the toughest stop on your tour. In fact, for the only time in the book I believe you talk about giving up this venture.
Mr. CONNOLLY: You know, Sarajevo - there's so much there, because it was definitely the hardest for me. Throughout this project and the couple of years where I'd been traveling around and documenting all these photographed stares, I'd also been getting another reaction from people, which when I'd set down the camera people would sometimes give me money, some people would bless me, which happened in Ukraine on a couple of occasions.
But the most common, especially in countries where there wasn't as much of a language barrier, would be, you know, what happened to you? And oftentimes that would be in kind of a loaded context, like, you know, I had one kid in New Zealand ask his mom very loudly at the checkout counter if I'd been eaten by a shark. Even in my hometown of Helena, I had one guy in a pub ask me if I still wore my dog tags from Iraq.
When I was in Sarajevo, the experiences were much, much more visceral in terms of what people thought had happened to me. You know, I was seeing people missing arms, occasionally missing a leg, you know, from the Balkan conflicts in the early '90s. And I was just at the right age where it'd be very easy to assume that I was, you know, a little kid running where I shouldn't have been.
And so, you know, I had, on top of people coming up and giving me money, sometimes handing me food, you know, I had people actually, you know, apologizing to me or assuming that I was part of this.
And I remember distinctly, actually, we were down in the Turkish quarter in Sarajevo and I saw this guy who was missing, I think it was his left arm and his right leg. And I sat there eyeballing him and really thinking, you know, what happened to this guy, why'd he find himself in this position, and realized that I was doing exactly the same thing that so many other people have doing to me both in this city and around the world.
And it really struck home, just because especially there I felt like regardless of my choosing to do so, I was bringing up maybe a lot of bad memories or bad stories for people around the city, history that they maybe they didn't want to constantly be inundated with.
And I think that was the most difficult thing, was realizing that regardless of my own choice and my own history, I was in some ways causing pain to certain people in Sarajevo.
SIMON: I want to get you to talk about your father, who just sounds remarkable. And if that TV series, "MacGyver," has done nothing else, it inspired your father as far as his son was concerned.
Mr. CONNOLLY: Honestly, that's one of my favorite chapters in the book. You know, I still remember - remember those memories of watching the show so clearly. You know, him sitting down with, you know, a can of beer and, you know, making sure that anytime "MacGyver" was building something or the climax of the TV show was going on, he'd always, you know: Kevin, Kevin. You know, it showed kind of a low-tech ethos of adaptation that, especially in Montana, is really important.
I mean, you know, my mom has a line, you know - there's some genius in there but it's buried real deep. You know, he was this guy that it was clear, I mean, would do anything for us kids, you know, and really, really from the depths of his heart loved, you know, my two sisters and I, still loves. But he goes about that in really unorthodox ways.
You know, a guy with a big - it looks kind of like Sam Elliott did, a big, big mustache and long kind of gray hair. And my mom actually said that in reference to him growing his hair and mustache purposefully long to try and offset some of the stares that I was getting. I think his train of logic was, you know, well, if I figure I look a little weirder than him, maybe they'll stare at me a bit more instead.
You know, I think that was kind of interesting because it showed, you know, how he really didn't care what people thought of him, but you know, he was willing to do anything necessary to make his kids more comfortable.
I have to note, though, you know, there's no way he could have done it alone. And my mom was this really, really solid counterpart. My mom is just this, you know, utter saint and sweetheart and totally bevels off the edges that, you know, he inflicts on any situation. So you know, I think it was definitely a two-person affair.
SIMON: Kevin Connolly, his memoir, "Double Take," just published in paperback. Kevin, so nice to talk to you.
Mr. CONNOLLY: Nice to talk to you as well, Scott.
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