Ross BBA Alum Traveling 1,500 Miles on Prosthetic Leg to Raise Money, Awareness
Nicole Ver Kuilen is on a mission.
The 2013 Michigan Ross BBA grad has a prosthetic leg, the result of a battle with bone cancer that started when she was 10 years old. Still, that hasn’t stopped her from competing regularly in bike races, triathlons, and half-marathons.
Today, she’s setting out on her most ambitious undertaking yet: a 1,500-mile, triathlon-style fund-raiser from Seattle to San Diego.
And she’ll do it all with a single, basic prosthetic leg. She doesn’t have a backup, or any special prosthetics for running or swimming, because insurance won’t cover anything else, and it typically won’t even pay the full cost of just the one.
That’s the reason Van Kuilen started her fund-raiser, which she calls “Forrest Stump,” in the first place — to bring awareness to issues in the insurance market and help improve the situation for others.
“Nicole wants to be a voice for change. And she’s willing to break her only leg to do it,” reads a statement on the website. “She has assembled a team of athletes and supporters to complete a 1,500 mile triathlon (swimming, biking, and running) down the entire west coast. Along the way she will be raising money and advocating for legislative changes affecting health care coverage for prosthetic devices.”
Nicole wants to be a voice for change. And she’s willing to break her only leg to do it
Ver Kuilen will make her journey primarily by bicycle, with some stretches of running and swimming. Her schedule includes rest days and a few special events along the way, wrapping up by Oct. 22 with a triathlon at the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which is based in San Diego and awarded her with a grant to support the project. She has also lined up a host of other sponsors, and a documentary film crew will follow along the route to create a movie about the effort.
Michigan Ross played a role in Ver Kuilen’s evolving efforts around prosthetics awareness. In her Ross application, she recalls, she wrote an essay about her hopes to one day engage in advocacy or perhaps found a nonprofit. And in an entrepreneurial studies class with Len Middleton, while she was going through the extremely long and time-consuming process of getting a new prosthetic leg, “I started thinking about how can we make this better, and more transparent for amputees?”
Ver Kuilen quit her full-time job — doing fund-raising and communications for the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment — to pursue Forrest Stump full time. She recently relocated to Seattle, and is working on turning the project into a registered nonprofit organization.
In the future, she plans to continue her efforts, likely using the documentary film as a vehicle to increase awareness and taking the message to lawmakers in D.C. Meanwhile, she’s been making contacts, building relationships, and raising funds. She notes, “My studies at Ross significantly helped with preparing to think as an entrepreneur.”