In 2021, Exposure Skate, a non-profit dedicated to bringing opportunity and visibility to women, trans, and nonbinary skaters, launched a college scholarship program in collaboration with College Skateboarding Educational Foundation (CSEF). Among its inaugural recipients was Mattisen Dimler, who at the time was a new mother pursuing her degree in developmental biology and genetics. “I’m very grateful,” smiled the skater scientist. “It carried me. I needed it. It was a really tough time because [my partner and I] were both out of work and [the scholarship] carried me through that semester.”

Skating, like biotech, came to Dimler later in life. “Honestly, I didn’t intend to skateboard,” she laughed. “I went to school up in the Poconos here in Pennsylvania, and I always wanted to snowboard and I never got to until I was in college. But once I did, I was absolutely hooked. For a couple of seasons I went 30 to 40 times. We lived on those mountains and it was amazing! Then it carried into grad school. Then I got older, I got a job and had to start planning two weeks ahead. Then your day comes and it’s raining and you’ve got to drive an hour and a half. Then one year goes by and two years go by. I missed it so much. I just love it so much.”

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During those snowboarding years, Dimler would skate in the off season to keep herself spry and ready for the mountain. It did not come naturally. “I always sucked at skating. I had a 7.75 [inch] board and that was probably why I was so bad at it,” she explained. “[Then the] pandemic happened and I decided, I’m going to learn this thing. I wasn’t working. There was nothing going on. You couldn’t do or go anywhere and I lived right around the corner from an indoor skate park that was open 24 hours a day. So, I would go in there before class or while the baby slept, and I would skate for 2 hours.”

Mattisen Dimler skateboarding in a bowl.

She progressed quickly, skating practically everyday for two years. “I was either momming, doing homework, in class, or I was skating,” she said. “It kept me focused. There was just so much going on in the world [and I just] tuned it out. I was able to just focus on this thing.”

Dimler’s decision to return to school for developmental biology and genetics was a winding road that, funnily enough, began with an intention to study that exact field. “I was 18,” said Dimler. “I didn’t know what I was doing and nobody in my family knew anything about college. I wanted to [study biotechnology], but I would have had to get a C or better in calculus, and I couldn’t get a C or better. Nobody told me, just take the level down. I didn’t even fail. I got a D.”

Thwarted by calculus and naivete, Dimler switched tracks. She looked to the things she enjoyed, English and psychology. “I got into my junior year, and I had published some stuff,” said Dimler. “Then a professor pulled me aside and was like, ‘you’re good at this.’ So I went to graduate school and I studied under Vijay Seshadri, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014, and Stephen Dobbins, who’s an unbelievable poet. It was a really solid experience.”

Writing defined Dimler’s life until she turned 30. First working as a journalist, then teaching at a college. While teaching Dimler pursued her Masters of Arts when she came to a sudden realization. “I don’t even like this,” she said, recalling her feelings at the time. “[Well] I did like it, but all the joy was sapped out of it. I think my self worth became tied to my success as a writer. There was nothing enjoyable about it anymore, so I just quit. I had one semester left and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I also quit my job and I waited tables for a little bit.”

Mattisen Dimler skateboarding

Eventually, Dimler found that the skills she’d accumulated were advantageous in the tech industry, specifically when it came to finding and analyzing patterns in large data sets. Working for a travel company, her mastery in Excel gave her the freedom to do what she wanted at the time, which was “do math and travel”. But after a few years, Dimler realized she wasn’t ready to spend the rest of her life doing math and traveling. “I was like, this is what I’m doing for the next 30 years,” she said. “And I don’t love this. It’s convenient. It’s fun to travel. But I wasn’t satisfied.”

That was when Dimler looked back to her childhood passion for biotech. “I grew up on Jurassic Park and I went to this seminar in 12th grade that totally blew my mind. I always loved it and it never went away,” she explained. Toying with the idea of going back to school, Dimler was still unsure of committing to the path of biotech. She laughed as she recalled, “My partner was like, ‘if you don’t do it, you’re going to regret it. And I’m going to have to hear about you telling me how you should have done this. So just do it.’ And I did.”

Dimler and her partner enrolled in classes together in Fall of 2019, with a baby planned and on the way. “I don’t know if you knew this, but making babies as lesbians is a process,” she laughed. So when the world shut down in March 2020, the trio hunkered down, all attending lectures together.

Both scraping by on savings while they attended classes, Dimler was on the hunt for scholarships to help lighten some of the financial burden. One night, she came across Amelia Brodka’s documentary, Underexposed. Curious, she did a bit more research into Brodka’s foundation, Exposure Skate, and discovered their scholarship program. It was exactly what Dimler had been looking for, with just one slight hiccup. Applications were due in less than 24 hours.

“I messaged the Instagram account for the scholarship and I was like, can I have more time? And they were like, ‘we already extended it, sorry.’” recalled Dimler. “Meg put the baby to bed and I cranked out the essays in like 3 hours. I was like, there’s no way I’m going to win this. So, I wrote them with entirely reckless abandon. Now I’m pretty certain that’s why I won.”

Mattisen Dimler skateboarding.

Dimler’s feelings of imposter syndrome upon being awarded the scholarship were quickly replaced with gratitude, both for the support provided and the new connections to the larger skate community. “It’s come to mean so much to me and to be able to represent it, it’s a big honor,” she smiled. “I care about skating, what it brings and the safety it gives people in general. But especially for little girls, having sports and a place in sports is really important. It’s a really tremendous honor [to carry that vision], and I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”

Now graduated, Dimler works in a lab where “I get to play with a ton of cool instruments. Awesome stuff. That’s what I really wanted. I just wanted to play with really expensive toys,” she laughed. Along with living her Jurassic Park dreams, Dimler is also stoked to get back on her board after a forced three month post-surgery break. “Right around the time I started skating, I was losing my ability to walk. I was really handicapped about a year ago, and at the beginning of August I couldn’t even skate anymore. I couldn’t walk,” she explained. “I saw about a zillion doctors. Nobody knew what was going on. Then we finally [figured out that] I had a developmental defect where my spine was slipping off from itself.”

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She continued, “They fixed me up. I had surgery at the end of May, and it was killing me. I couldn’t skate for three months. I had it marked on my calendar. It’s been kind of weird. I’ve had to relearn how to skate because my whole core got so weak.”

While regaining the ability to hop on a board has been a major benefit, Dimler is even happier that she can now play with her daughter like she always wanted to. “She’s so funny and quirky. It’s funny because out of nowhere, she went from baby to full on playing pretend. ‘Would you like to come to my restaurant? Let me take your order.’ Just out of nowhere. She just loves to play pretend and sing and dance, and she’s absolutely the cutest thing in the entire world. It’s so nice to just be able to chill with her. And poor girl too. [Before the surgery] I couldn’t really get down on the floor and play. I was just so miserable all the time, so it’s nice that she just gets this. She’ll never remember that part of me. She’ll only remember the mom that could just play and get down on the floor and roll around the way it should be.”

Relearning to skate has been a reminder to Dimler about how similar her relationship with skateboarding is with her relationship to science. “[In experiments] I do what we call an assay,” she explained. “Where you dilute it in half, and that doesn’t work, so you dilute it in half again, and that doesn’t work, so you dilute it in half again. With skating, a lot of times it’s the same thing. That didn’t work. I’m going to move it this way. Oh, that didn’t work. I’m going to move a little bit more. The people that really get frustrated with skating are the people that aren’t willing to just repeat the same thing over and over and over again and keep failing. But that is the essence of science. We are in the business of failure and skating is 99% failure. You literally just keep failing at something, and once you finally stop failing, you do two to make it true and move onto the next thing.”

In summary, science and skating are both a combination of experimentation and patience. Dimler added, “you have to have a little bit of vision and a lot of whimsy. You have to be willing to say, I’m dreaming big. I’m going to do this big thing.”

Dimler carries that whimsy with her through every facet of her life, always looking forward to the next big dream, even if it feels a little silly. “Sometimes it’s the silly things that sustain us,” she smiled. “I think it’s important to keep learning, mastering new things, and keep that sense of wonder. [There will] always be new things to master.”

She continued, “you have to keep believing that the impossible is possible. When you start thinking that way, if that’s the dream your heart wants, you just full send. You throw yourself into it. I don’t feel failure. Everything is important. Everything has led to this moment right here.”

Mattisen Dimler skateboarding.

Going into the future, Dimler’s biggest goal is to take a breather and appreciate what she has right now. “[For me] it is [a conscious effort] to just chill. It’s a challenge,” she laughed. “The next year is about learning to be satisfied and finding gratitude in these things that I have. Having time for the relationships that may have fallen by the wayside. The lesson for me is learning to just feel satisfied.”

Still that doesn’t stop her from bringing that whimsy and excitement to her day to day. “My new thing is playing basketball with the boys. I’m just really competitive and I don’t really have much of an outlet for this hyper competitive side,” Dimler said. “My newest pretend dream is that I think it would be fantastic to play international women’s basketball and be the oldest person to ever do it. I understand this is never going to happen, but it’s the little spark in my head when I’m practicing in the mornings.”

Skating, science, and much of the rest of Dimler’s life is the result of her ability to keep the big picture in view, unwavering drive, and the prowess to ask questions, following her grandma’s adage that “a day in which you don’t learn something is a day wasted.” It is that insatiable curiosity that she hopes to nurture in her own daughter as she grows. “She’s so cute because she’s just so inquisitive,” smiled Dimler. “If I can pass on one trait to her, it is being able to look at things and ask, but why? To question it, be mindful, look without judging, and just observe.”

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding during her reading breaks.

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding during her reading breaks.


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