Marcy and Barry Tilmann have turned a family tragedy into a mission to protect young skaters.
And soon they could begin helping to safeguard even more skaters by giving away free helmets through Largo's skate park.
Nearly three years ago, the Tilmanns lost their son Ian 10 days after he suffered a brain injury in a skateboarding accident in Clearwater. Ian, 28, lost control of his skateboard on the stretch of Hercules Avenue known as Cemetery Hill and tumbled headfirst onto the road.
After their son's death, the Tilmanns had $9,000 in a fund that friends and others had contributed to help pay for his care. They decided to use the money to give skaters something their son lacked.
So they formed the nonprofit Ian Tilmann Foundation. During the past two years, the foundation has given away about 1,200 helmets. In exchange, recipients must pledge to wear them when engaged in action sports.
Recently, the Tilmanns approached the city of Largo about setting up a program to distribute the headgear through the city's skate park at the Highland Recreation Complex.
As proposed, the city would have a park employee coordinate the program, promote it, work with other skate parks to coordinate regional skating events and sponsor two skate competitions a year to benefit the distribution program.
For Largo officials, the timing couldn't have been better.
On Jan. 7, the Largo Skate Park assigned a staff member to supervise the park during its new operating hours.
City officials also began enforcing the rule that all skaters must wear a helmet.
"One of the things that we really wanted to take control of was making sure the skaters were using helmets," said Joan Byrne, the city's recreation, parks and arts director. "We thought that was very, very important."
During a work session last week, city commissioners took no official action but generally supported the proposal.
"This is an outstanding program," City Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said. "I would like for us to support it."
City commissioners could vote this week on whether to participate, Byrne said. If they approve, the distribution program could begin at the park within a couple of weeks.
Largo isn't the only community the Tilmanns have approached. Barry Tilmann said the foundation is working with, or has talked to, officials in Clearwater, Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Hernando County. They've even formed a chapter of the foundation in Baton Rouge, La.
The goal, he said, is to create a network of skate parks that will coordinate signing up skaters to receive the helmets and create a culture of safety for skaters.
During 2008, the Tilmanns hope to reach agreements to put the distribution program in six to eight skate parks around the Tampa Bay area and to distribute 300 to 500 helmets at each park.
The network also would raise at least half the costs of the giveaway program through skating events at the parks and private donations.
"We are not asking City Hall for money," Barry Tilmann told Largo commissioners.
The startup costs for participating in the giveaway program are minimal - about $500 for a banner, decals and other promotional materials, city officials say.
The Tilmanns and Largo officials also have discussed setting up a "loaner" program to check out helmets, sort of like bowling shoes, to skaters and cyclists who show up to use Largo's skate park without protective headgear.
In response, city commissioners said they needed more details about liability issues and replacing damaged city-owned helmets after a crash, among other things. Commissioners indicated that they wanted to take a more deliberate approach to establishing a loaner program.
For the Tilmanns, expanding and transferring the foundation's programs to skate parks will let them finish their grieving and return their lives to normal. For now, they are running the foundation from their Safety Harbor home, where the living room is filled with 60 helmets.
Free helmets have gone to skaters as young as 3 and as old as 48. That has brought hundreds of families to the Tilmanns' home, and introduced them to many young people who reminded them of Ian.
"I lost one son," Marcy Tilmann said, "but I've gained 1,500 others."
IF YOU GO
Largo Skate Park
Highland Recreation Complex, 400 Highland Ave. NE
Weekdays - 4 to 8:45 p.m.
Saturdays - Noon to 8:45 p.m.
Sundays - Noon to 5:45 p.m.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays - 4 to 8:45 p.m.
Saturdays - 2 to 8:45 p.m.
Sundays - 2 to 5:45 p.m.
Tuesdays and Thursdays - 4 to 8:45 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays - noon to 2 p.m.
On the Web
To learn more about the Ian Tilmann Foundation, visit the iantilmannfoundation.org/.