Aaron Fotheringham: Superman on Wheelz
Editor’s Note: Flying through the air with the greatest of ease, Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is Superman on Wheelz. Listed in the Guinness World Records for pioneering the wheelchair back flip, Fotheringham treats his wheelchair like a BMX bicycle and a skateboard. If ever a person defines someone overcoming any type of limitations, Fotheringham is that man.
“When someone says ‘You’re in a wheelchair,’ it’s like saying that I’m confined to my chair,” Fotheringham says. “I’m ‘on’ my wheelchair; I ride it like a skater ‘on’ a skateboard.”
To get up enough speed to complete his famous back flip, Fotheringham rolls down a BMX ramp until he hits an incline that propels him high in the air and through the flip. Many skateboarders and BMX bike riders perform this trick as a part of their routines, but Fotheringham is pulling this trick atop his wheelchair. This young man has learned that his wheelchair doesn’t limit him to staying on the ground but rather serves as a vehicle that launches him high in the air and allows him to perform tricks unlike any the world ever has seen.
Twenty-two-year-old Aaron Fotheringham has performed his tricks in Germany, Korea, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Australia and all across the United States. Currently, he is performing in Japan with the world famous Nitro Circus.
What makes his performance even more amazing is that Aaron was born in 1992 with spina bifida, a developmental birth defect caused by the incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube. At his birth, doctors had predicted that Fotheringham wouldn’t be able to sit independently. However, those words had little to do with the extreme sports lifestyle that Fotheringham leads today.
According to Fotheringham, “When I was young, I watched a lot of the X Games on TV, and action sports were something I thought were cool. My brother was a BMX rider. When I went with my brother to the skate park in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I live, he helped me drop in to the BMX track on my wheelchair for the first time. I fell in love with the sport.”
BMX bicycle courses, motocross, skateboarding and pulling tricks in a half-pipe are words that, before Aaron’s rise to fame, were hardly ever mentioned by individuals in wheelchairs. But Fotheringham doesn’t let his wheelchair define him or prohibit him from participating in these sports. He feels his wheelchair launches him into performing the impossible and setting new standards as to what can be done while riding a wheelchair.
Fotheringham’s riding his wheelchair is one of the tools of his trade. He’s a competitor, a performer and a member of the prestigious Nitro Circus – an active sports collective lead by extreme sports legend Travis Pastrana, featuring his friends and himself. Nitro performers travel around the world riding dirt bikes, base jumping and performing stunts on tour. There’s even a second television series based on the tour and a 3D feature film.
Fotheringham explains, “I’ve always been a fan of Nitro Circus, and my friends always told me I should be a part of that group. One day, Nitro Circus emailed me and asked me to join, and I couldn’t resist. So, I’ve been with the Nitro Circus since December 2009.”
When asked, Fotheringham said choosing his favorite time with the Nitro Circus was difficult, because everything had been so much fun. “But I guess landing my first front flip in New Zealand in 2011 was probably the highlight of my career so far.”
Fotheringham gained fame by competing in BMX freestyle competitions, including the 2005 Vegas Am Jam BMX finals. As he’s grown stronger and more skilled as an athlete, his goals have changed, and he constantly pushes himself to do more.
“I want to change the world’s perception of people in wheelchairs,” Fotheringham emphasizes. “Also, I want to help everyone see his/her own challenge in a new way.”
Fotheringham has continued to challenge himself to do progressively more difficult tricks with carving, grinding, power sliding, hand planting and spinning just a few of his accomplishments. He performed a mid-air 180-degree turn in 2005, a wheelchair back flip in 2006, the first ever double back flip in 2010 and his first front flip in 2011. In 2012, Fotheringham shocked Brazilians by jumping and landing successfully over a 50-foot gap off the MegaRamp in his chair.
When asked how spinal bifida had impacted his life, Fotheringham smiled and answered, “Spina bifida has been a positive impact and has given me everything that I have. Traveling to all the countries that the circus visits, meeting all kinds of people and seeing how good different crowds are is something I enjoy. I realize that being a part of the Nitro Circus is a big honor. Some of the greatest athletes of extreme sports are in the Nitro Circus. That the Nitro Circus has kept me a part of the circus is a big honor. Because of the circus I’ve been able to reach more people ‘on’ wheelchairs and show people ‘on’ wheelchairs that their trials can be taken positively.”
Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham Performs in the Nitro Circus
Aaron Fotheringham has had the opportunity to travel within the United States as well as internationally with the Nitro Circus. He’s performed and spoken in front of numbers of people, attended camps for children with disabilities as a coach and a mentor and been featured in magazines and newspaper articles and on sports television. He receives and responds to emails from all over the world.
One of Fotheringham’s greatest joys in life is showing young people with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a toy – not a restriction.
He loves helping children learn how to handle their chairs in new and different ways and teaching them a trick or two. One day he hopes to design, according to him, “the most wicked” wheelchair in the world.
But as glamorous, exciting and fun as the world of Aaron Fotheringham is, his fame and accomplishments come with a price. “I’ve had injuries such as concussions, injuries to my shoulders and others, especially when I’m trying new tricks,” Fotheringham reports. However, the pain, the strain, the bruises and the bumps have paid off mightily for the man who rides his wheelchair into a new world. “My greatest thrills come from inspiring thousands, learning new big tricks and understanding that nothing is impossible,” Fotheringham says.
When Superman learned to leap tall buildings in a single bound, bend steel with his hands and fly through the air like a speeding bullet, he didn’t stop with those great accomplishments. Superman set out to change the world for the better and to show people what could be done that never had been accomplished previously. Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is blazing a new trail for all those who ride – not sit – on a wheelchair. He makes the impossible a part of his everyday performances.
“By attending the Nitro Circus, people can see great people doing unbelievable tricks,” Fotheringham explains. “Our performances always put smiles on people’s faces and pumps them up. Our shows are action packed, and we have some of the biggest tricks of the X Games from all over the world included in our performances.” To see the difference in sitting in a wheelchair and riding on a wheelchair where Fotheringham makes the seemingly impossible possible for users of wheelchairs, don’t miss an opportunity to visit the internationally famous Nitro Circus.
The Nitro Circus 2015 Tour Schedule:
* Tuesday, May 5: Tampa, Florida
* Wednesday, May 06: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
* Friday, May 8: Jacksonville, Florida
* Saturday, May 9: Orlando, Florida
* Sunday, May 10: Atlanta, Georgia
* Tuesday, May 12: Nashville, Tennessee
* Thursday, May 14: Newark, New Jersey
* Friday, May 15: Uniondale, New York
* Sunday, May 17: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
* Tuesday, May 19: St. Louis, Missouri
* Wednesday, May 20: Kansas City, Missouri
* Thursday, May 21: Tulsa, Oklahoma
* Saturday, May 23: Dallas, Texas
* Sunday, May 24: Houston, Texas
Go to http://nitrocircus.com/tour/ to find the latest tour locations and order tickets.
Superman’s Blessing of Adoption
Great people often come from great families and have great friends. Despite Superman on Wheelz’s challenging diagnosis, Fotheringham’s adoptive parents, Steve and Kaylene, didn’t hesitate when they first saw him in the hospital when he was only 2 months old. Like Clark Kent’s parents, the Fotheringhams and their five additional adopted children always gave Aaron comfort and protection and a lot of space to develop.
They encouraged Aaron to do anything he wanted to do – including sliding down the stairs head first. He appeared to be a daredevil since birth.
Aaron met most milestones at about the same pace as his peers and could walk with crutches. He even wrote a couple of stories about “Crutch Boy,” the hero who always saved the day. Once Aaron’s legs and his arms could not support his weight, he transitioned into a wheelchair, opening up new adventures for this Superman.
Aaron’s older brother Brian spent most of his free time at the Pro Park, a popular skater venue in Las Vegas. Wowed by the stunts and the tricks that the skateboarders and the BMX riders performed, Aaron, then only 8 years old, was encouraged by Brian and his friends to roll down a shallow ramp.
The ride was scary at first, and Aaron crashed hands first. But soon, he was hooked on the thrill and the speed with which he flew down the ramp. Within 6 months, Aaron accomplished his first trick by lifting up one of his back wheels while traveling over a bump.
“The more I rode, the better I became, but I have to admit that the process involved falling in every way possible,” Fotheringham recalls.
To protect himself from severe injury and from trying tricks that he wasn’t prepared for, Fotheringham developed one message that he constantly repeated to himself, “Don’t be an idiot!” Knowing he was going to crash before he could fly, he always wore a full face helmet and never attempted tricks that he didn’t think he was ready to master.
On his way to becoming Superman on Wheelz, Aaron broke his wheelchair not long after beginning his new hobby. At that time, wheelchair manufacturers hadn’t considered the possibility of anyone flying a wheelchair through the air and crashing it to the ground. We all know the original Superman was impossible to stop, until he encountered kryptonite – a substance that caused him to lose his power and strength. In Aaron’s case, his kryptonite was a broken wheelchair.
“The insurance company would not replace a broken and busted wheelchair,” Aaron’s mom Kaylene explains. Since the Fotheringhams couldn’t raise an additional $3,000-$5,000 to replace Aaron’s chair, they patched it up the best they could. They told Aaron he couldn’t take his chair to the skate park again.
Superman without a wheelchair to ride was powerless to fly. However, Aaron Fotheringham had a huge advantage that allowed him to regain his strength, increase his stamina and fly higher and faster than ever before – his friends. They raised enough money to buy the Superman on Wheelz a new wheelchair. The wheelchair was supposed to be strong enough to withstand the punishment Aaron meted out. Aaron’s wheelchair was as critical to accomplishing his athletic goals as a quality pole would be to a pole vaulter.
Once Aaron performed his first airborne 180, his dad, Steve, videotaped the performance and sent the video to the wheelchair manufacturer. A letter then arrived from John Box, the founder of the wheelchair company, who asked Aaron’s dad to call him directly when Aaron needed anything. John has sponsored Aaron ever since. With his new chair, Aaron did his first back flip in 2006.
Aaron has a very simple message to those who ride wheelchairs. He says, “Always test your boundaries. Don’t let the disability restrain your capacities and possibilities. If a magician came up to me today with a magic wand and asked, ‘Do you want to walk?’ I’d tell him, ‘Why should I walk when I can roll?’”
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.