Disabled Vegas Teen Is The Wheel Deal

It is a place that worships momentum and mocks inertia, craves acceleration and condemns lethargy. All angle and pitch, slope and slant, it is a place of dry pools and concrete runways, of mad ramps and half-pipes.

No one ever told Aaron Fotheringham it was a place he shouldn't enter, or didn't belong in. After all, he did the same things -- spinning and rising, falling and crashing -- every other skateboarder and BMX rider did.

Aaron Fotheringham had wheels.

His were just a little different than the others.

"People call it wheelchair skateboarding," he says with a shake of the head, "and it's like, oh man, it's its own sport. It's hard-core sitting."

Watch a video report on his story tonight on "World News." Check your local listings for air time.

To see a ESPN's extended version, click HERE.

Facing Challenges

One of six adopted children, Fotheringham was born with spina bifida, a condition that affects the neural tubes and development of the spinal cord. It is a birth defect that occurs in seven of every 10,000 births in the United States, but it didn't change the Fotheringhams' view of their little boy when he joined their family. If there were unknown challenges ahead, there would be strength to meet them.

"I remember dancing with him in the kitchen and holding him when he was 3 years old, and thinking, 'I'm going to have to carry this kid,'" his father Steven says. "Whatever hardships, I'll carry him."

Initially using braces to walk, Aaron got his first wheelchair when he was 3. It sat among his toys, and that was how he viewed it: as a vehicle for fun. By the time he was 8, after a series of painful hip operations, he was in the wheelchair most of the time.

From the start, he saw its advantages more than its limits.

That's why, when his older brother Brian invited him to wheel into a local skate park seven years ago, he didn't hesitate.

"A bunch of skaters helped me up to the top of the ramp, and practically just pushed me over on to my face," Aaron recalls with a laugh.

But he got up, and got back into the chair. He kept falling, kept getting up, kept trying. Soon enough, he was racing around the park and wondering how to spin and jump.

"Just being included," he says, recalling the feeling of that first day, "and saying, 'Hey, I may be able to go somewhere with this.'"

Has he ever.

Nickname: Wheels

With a motocross helmet, elbows pads and a seat belt, Aaron spent as much as 30 hours a week at skate parks across Las Vegas, earning the nickname that has stayed with him to this day: Wheels.

Joe Wichert, extreme sports coordinator for the city, was the first to invite him to join local competitions, side by side with skateboarders and BMX riders. Wichert understood from the beginning that he was witnessing something utterly new: an athlete creating his own sport.

"I was completely blown away by it," Wichert says. "I couldn't believe the drive and the determination that he had in his eyes to do this … it touched me that he had this kind of love for the sport and he didn't let his disability get in the way."

As the crowds grew for his competitions, Aaron became driven to create new tricks. That's when he and his friends came up with the idea.

"I told my mom that people keep coming up to me and saying that it would be cool if I could do a backflip from my wheelchair," he says, smiling.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...