Inspired by her work with alumni, Nicole Ver Kuilen (BBA Michigan Ross '13), former Assistant Director for Alumni Relations, left SEAS in July 2017 to create a legacy of her own: Forrest Stump. She cherishes the relationships she built with alumni, students, faculty, and staff during her time at SEAS and is honored to share her personal journey.
"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 at U-M, however, I realized it was a core identity I could not continue to ignore. The powers that disrupt environmental protection and progress for our climate also exist to marginalize communities like the disabled. Once I realized the intersectionality of our issues, it was clear I needed to make a stand for both."
An athlete and an amputee, Nicole decided in 2017 to attempt a 1,500 mile triathlon: running, biking, and swimming from Seattle to San Diego to raise awareness for amputees across the country and the challenges they face. She successfully completed the journey on October 22, 2018, ending at La Jolla Shores, home to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. In the process, the course of her future changed completely.
At the finish line, Nicole was presented with an Össur Cheetah running blade - a dream come true (see the video of her first strides). Along the way, she connected with filmmaker Chris Duncan, also a Michigan alum, and is working with his studio, Snowday, on 1500 Miles, a documentary about her journey. She continues in the role of founder and executive director of Forrest Stump, and most recently was appointed the inaugural National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics & Prosthetics Fellow. In September 2018, she will attempt to summit Cotopaxi, a 19,347ft active volcano in Ecuador, with the Range of Motion Project.
From the Diag to DC via the Pacific coast, Nicole's odyssey is just beginning. Her unwavering commitment to bring awareness to the struggles amputees face in obtaining necessary technology and care will continue to fuel her path forward.
"The tenacity of SEAS alumni to make change cannot be understated. I am indebted to this community for opening my eyes and sharing their entrepreneurial spirit with me. As SEAS alumna Cynthia Koenig shared in her interview, 'start before you're ready'. And so I will."