By Christine Rogel Explorebigsky.com Contributor

BOZEMAN— When people see Kevin Connolly they often stare. Some will ask him if he was a victim of a shark attack or a car accident, or if he was injured in the war in Iraq.

He discovered that when people watched him roll by on a skateboard, they wanted to make up a story for him. But Connolly’s story is not one an imagination can easily conjure.

Connolly was born in Helena in 1985 with a sporadic birth defect that left him without legs. In 2006, while skating down a backstreet in Vienna, he took his first photo for what was to become “The Rolling Exhibition,” a photography project that now spans more than 32,000 images and took him to 15 countries. The exhibition documents the reactions to his skateboarding from people around the world.

“For the same reason we want to know how a magic trick works or how a mystery novel ends, we want to know how someone different, strange or disfigured came to be as they are,” said Connolly in his artist’s statement. “Everyone does it. It’s natural. It’s curiosity. But before any of us can ponder or speculate, we react. We stare.”

Catching this moment of “unabashed curiosity” was his intention as a photographer. And he succeeded.

By age 23, Connolly had photographic exhibitions at both the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institute. By 24, he’d published his first book, “Double Take,” which has sold more than 20,000 copies and is being developed into a film by Groundswell Productions.

Now at age 26, Connolly lives in Bozeman. He will be just one of many inspiring speakers presenting during the debut of TEDxBozeman, an event featuring local and national figures presenting on Montana-based initiatives and ideas.

The theme of TEDxBozeman is “Big Sky, Big Minds,” and during the event, select speakers will explain forward-thinking ideas and passions in 18 minutes or less.

At the Emerson Center, Connolly plans to present on adaptive technology and prosthetic limbs.

He said he is “hugely excited” and honored to present at the conference, but is even more excited to listen to the other speakers as this area draws “a number of smart brains to it.”

“Big Sky, Big Minds” is an independent event licensed by TED, a nonprofit based in New York with the purpose of spreading innovative ideas from modern-day thinkers. The organization began in 1984 as a four-day conference that brought together people in the fields of technology, entertainment and design. Since then, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert and Sir Richard Branson are just a few speakers who’ve contributed to TED’s mission.

Attendees of the Bozeman-based event can expect to hear from a variety of individuals, including Florence Dunkel, a leading entomologist from MSU who suggests that eating insects may help fight world hunger; and Benjamin Ferencz, who had a hand in designing graphics for brands like MoMA, MTV and Gucci.

“The idea behind it is to shed light on the fact that we have several brilliant citizens of Montana who can help lay the foundation for educating the future,” said Danny Schotthoefer, co-founder and spokesperson for TEDxBozeman. “There is no reason that Bozeman should not be on the forefront of a progressive culture.”

TEDXBozeman will be held in the Emerson Cultural Center Ballroom, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on March 23. Tickets can be purchased at TEDxBozeman.Eventbrite.com. The event will also be live streamed at tedxbozeman.com and there will be a free viewing party open to the first 100 people at the Bozeman Public Library at the same time as the event.

For more information, visit TEDxBozeman.com. To watch videos of past presenters, visit TED.com.