Disabled Vegas Teen Is The Wheel Deal

That summer, he spent a week working on that -- and almost nothing else -- at an extreme sports camp in California. Roaring down a ramp, building speed, hitting an upslope and then going airborne, trying to flip his wheelchair completely over his head, he crashed into the camp's foam pits over and over. Every day, fellow campers gathered to watch.

Then, on July 13, 2006, the night before he was set to come home, he took off one more time. When he landed, as far as he knows, he became the first person in history to complete a wheelchair backflip.

And it was on tape.

"A flood of skateboarders and bikers came over and were congratulating me," he says, his smile shining at the memory. "It just felt so good."

Shortly after he landed, the footage was posted on the Internet and became a sensation. The tape has led to a celebrity Aaron never imagined, and to his new relationship with wheelchair manufacturer Colours In Motion, a company that provides him with a specialized chair, mechanical support and other equipment to keep pushing the limits.

He recently flew to Europe for a promotional tour that included a stop at a school in Germany for disabled children, providing a moment Aaron's mother will not forget.

"This little boy who can't speak any English comes up to me," Kaylene Fotheringham recalls. "I don't think that he knew I was Aaron's mom, and he holds up this poster to me and he says, 'Mein Aaron autograph! Mein Aaron autograph!' and I remember just sitting there and bawling."

She stops as she recalls the scene, her eyes wet from the memory.

"All these kids were in wheelchairs and they were so inspired … and this is when it came to me: Aaron can do so much for other people."

Encouraging Other Youngsters

Now 16, with the broad shoulders of a football player and the scraped knuckles from his own sport, Fotheringham straddles railings, flies off ramps, does stationary spins and, of course, lands the backflip.

He also continues to touch others.

On this late January day, he is pushing 4-year-old Zachary Puddy Siggens around a skate park in Las Vegas. They carve around the macadam, up onto a ramp, and then down the other side, their helmets shining below the morning sky. The laughter coming from Zach's voice, the thrill lighting his face, suggest a joy so deep, this seems like it's one of the greatest moments of his life so far.

And it is.

After suffering a stroke at just 18 months old, Zach has made an extraordinary recovery, according to his mother, Linda. Still, he is a little boy in a wheelchair, who wants to run and play and explore. He wants, as Aaron once did, to be included. When Linda saw the video of Aaron on the Internet, she traveled from her home in Seattle so her son could meet the teenager he has come to idolize in the span of just a few days.

Their connection is immediate and real, as Zach's laughter echoes across the contours of the park, his eyes never leaving Aaron's dashing chair.

Watching it all in front of her, Linda Puddy wipes away her tears.

"I didn't know what to do until I saw Aaron, and then I knew," she says. "It gives Zachary a direction to go."

"He's a hero," she says, watching the teenager pushing her son down a small slope. "Zach thinks that Aaron flies."

For Aaron Fotheringham, it is a life not only on wheels, but wings, as he soars through the air, his spokes catching the sun.

Tom Rinaldi is an ESPN correspondent based in the New York City Bureau, contributing to "SportsCenter," "Outside the Lines," "College GameDay" and "NFL Countdown."

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