Extreme Sports Wheelchair Competitor Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham Proves Spina Bifida Doesn’t Hold Him Back
BY JESSICA FECTEAU
For Aaron Fotheringham, using a wheelchair doesn’t mean adventure isn’t possible.
The Las Vegas native, who was born with spina bifida, started using a wheelchair around the age of 8 due to chronic pain. At 24, he’s now competing in national BMX competitions and doing what most pros can’t achieve.
“I first started going to skate parks when I was around the age of 8 years old – my older brother was really into action sports at the time,” he tells PEOPLE. “He was a BMXer, so he was always kind of pumping me up and he was a big inspiration for me. He helped me get to the top of the ramp, and from there I just started dropping in more and more.”
Fotheringham says at first he was falling on his hands and face a lot, but one clean landing was all it took for the sport to become his new passion in life.
Now he competes against other BMXers and skaters and tours with Nitro Circus – an extreme sports stunt group founded by motocross rider Travis Pastrana.
Not only is he the only person to compete in a wheelchair, he is also starting to set records.
After practicing for an entire year – and suffering several concussions and breaking his wheelchair – Fotheringham completed the world’s first double backflip in a wheelchair in 2010.
“The double backflip was definitely the best night of my life,” he says. “I came close to giving up on it at one point, but then I just stuck with it, and once I landed it, it just really showed me that it always gets tougher before you succeed, and to truly never give up.”
He also went on to complete a front flip in 2011 for the first time.
“The double backflip almost sends me to the hospital every time, but the front flip is kind of gentle,” he assures.
Now he is gearing up to be an ambassador for Wings For Life, a foundation that raises money for research for spinal cord injuries.
The organization is hosting their annual World Run produced by Red Bull on May 8, in which people in 34 locations around the world will start running at the same time – the race ends when the last person finishes.
Fotheringham is sharing his story in a new video to get people to run on Team WHEELZ. All proceeds go toward finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.
“Being an ambassador is a true honor,” he says. “I’m just excited to have all my friends and family get behind Team Wheelz and race for a cause.”
Being an ambassador is also a way to help relieve some of the existing stigma against people in wheelchairs.
“A lot of people view the wheelchair as being negative, or kind of like a prison, like you always hear people say, ‘confined to a wheelchair,’ ” he says, “And for me, I never felt confined to the wheelchair – it always was a great opportunity so if I could say anything to anyone living on a wheelchair, it’s all about having a positive attitude and just kind of looking for the bright side of things. Wheelchairs provides just as many opportunities as someone with working legs, it’s just you got to get out there and kind of chase it.”
Fotheringham, who is the third of six adopted children, also credits his parents to supporting his passion.
“The way my parents always raised me, they always made me work for things and they just treated me no different than any of my other brothers and sisters, and I really thank them for that,” he says. “I always looked up to extreme athletes and pretty much anyone that’s out there, you know chasing their dreams and making it happen.”