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Skateboarding Champion Helps Inner City Youngsters

Skateboarder Tony Hawk was at the top of his sport in the 1990s. Today, he is an entrepreneur. He is retired from competition and involved in industries from video games to skateboards and apparel. VOA highlight Hawk's efforts in this week's Making a Difference as he works with young skateboarders in America's cities.

Tony Hawk has won more than 70 professional skateboarding championships and built a fan base of millions of young admirers.

Through the Tony Hawk Foundation, he has helped build more than 400 skate parks -- from Ironton, Ohio to Compton, California.

Hawk is involved in a host of thriving businesses, and owes much of his success to skateboarding. But he got involved in the sport by chance. He was nine years old when his brother gave him a skateboard and he went to a local skate park.

"Once I was there and I realized the possibilities of it. I was hooked," Hawk recalls.

By all accounts, Hawk was a bright, but difficult child. He says skateboarding gave him a focus. And by age 11, he was entering competitions. Hawk says skateboarding appeals to kids like him. "They don't necessarily find their place in the traditional mainstream team sports or ball sports, and they're looking for something else. And skateboarding, I think, is much more available to them and a lot of kids really enjoy that it's different," Hawk said.

The foundation has given out more than $2.7 million since it was established in 2002. It gets involved with projects that are being planned or are underway. And Hawk says kids get involved in designing and building their own skate parks.

"And I feel like that's the real accomplishment for them, is that they see it through," he said. "They cut through all the red tape and they finally make it happen. And there it is. There is literally concrete evidence of their work."

Tony Hawk says skateboarding, once a fringe sport, has gone mainstream, and it is giving kids some healthy competition in the nation's inner cities.