Person of the Week: Wheelchair Bound Teen Changes Skating World One Back Flip At A Time

Aaron Fotheringham shreds limits by shredding at the skate park.

October 14, 2010, 11:51 AM

October 14, 2010 — -- On a recent, blazing hot afternoon at a suburban Las Vegas skate park, Aaron Fotheringham, 18, was tearing up the concrete.

Launching himself from a 12-foot vertical drop, he raced full speed to the other side of the bowl, planted his hand on the edge, and dropped back down.

"Man, that feels good," Aaron, known to the locals as "Wheelz," said as he skidded to a stop. "I don't think any drug in the world could top that. I love adrenaline."

Aaron doesn't just fit in with the other teenage daredevils skating and biking at this park, he routinely outdoes them by pulling off stunts like hand plants and heart-stopping back flips.

Aaron's talent at the skate park isn't the only thing setting him apart from his skating buddies. He's different in one very crucial way. Aaron is in a wheelchair.

"A lot of people think of the wheelchair as a medical instrument," Aaron told ABC News, as he sat among a pile of busted wheels in the back yard of his family's home. "I think that's wrong. You know, why not think of it as something fun?"

Born with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord, Aaron has been without the use of his legs since birth.

"We credit a lot of his progression or desire to do what he's doing to the fact that we were told by the doctors that he would be completely incapable," Aaron's mother, Kaylene Fotheringham, 51, told ABC News in the family's suburban Las Vegas home. "They're telling us as an infant, 'Oh, you know, he's not going to be able to sit independently. He'll never walk."

"I've often wished I knew where that doctor was," she added. "To say, 'Look at this kid that you told us would never be anything. And look at what he's done.'"

Making History in a Wheelchair

Aaron, who welds many of his own chairs, and estimates he's busted 8 or 9 wheels since the start of the year, started riding at skate parks at age eight, after watching his older brother take ramps on a bicycle.

Today he travels the world with other extreme athletes, performing his stunts at events like Nitro Circus Live, where he routinely jumps off a nearly 50-foot ramp in front of thousands.

Aaron keeps shredding his limits.

Just weeks ago, he pulled off the first-ever double back flip in a wheel chair, a stunt that's garnered over half a million hits on YouTube in just three weeks.

"That was probably the best feeling ever," Aaron said of the day he landed the flip. "That was probably the happiest I'd ever been. I couldn't sleep that night. I was just so pumped up."

Despite the excitement and adrenaline he gets from pulling off a stunt, Aaron said it can't compare to inspiring kids like him.

Zac Puddy, a 7-year old boy from Seattle who's been in a wheelchair ever since suffering a stroke 18 months ago, is one of thousands who sees in Aaron possibilities for a life for himself that he thought was only for other kids.

On a recent afternoon, Zac and Aaron rolled around the Puddy family driveway together.

"One more time. Get set. Go!" Zac yelled as he and Aaron sped down the pavement side-by-side.

"He's a hero, he's a hero" Zac's mother, Linda Puddy said. "He thinks Aaron flies. "

Aaron's mother, Kaylene, says that's the best part of seeing her son's success.

"He doesn't like to talk about it," she said of Aaron. "But I've got so many stories of so many people that, not necessarily in wheelchairs, but with some sort of trial or limitation, that have said, 'I was depressed, I didn't think I had anything to live for, and then I saw the story of your son, and it changed my life."

Aaron has his own name for the sport he dominates; he calls it, "extreme sitting."

A logo he designed for the sport looks like a familiar handicapped sign, except for the figure, which is wearing a helmet.

Someday he hopes to start his own line of wheelchairs that share parts more in common with a BMX bicycle, than a traditional wheelchair. He vows to make them affordable so that kids everywhere can get outside and be more active in their wheelchairs.

Aaron says he doesn't like the word disabled.

"It's almost -- what's the word -- degrading when someone calls you that," he said. "Disabled – I believe the definition of that is unusable, doesn't work, you know."

Fotheringham doesn't believe in limits. From the seat of his wheelchair, he doesn't see obstacles, just new things to jump.

"It just feels awesome, you know? I'm in love with this," he said. "I'm going to be riding skate parks until I die."

Click here to return to the "World News" page.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events