Aaron was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord, which resulted in him having no use of his legs. He is the third of six children, all adopted. Aaron never lets anything stop him through the power of manifesting his incredible spirit. Even as a baby and small child, he did anything anyone else his age could do; he just had to figure out how to make it work for him.
Aaron rolled over, sat up, and even crawled (on hands and belly, no leg action) pretty much on schedule. Within days of receiving his first walker, he was off and running. Next came crutches, which he mastered quickly. He would put on a Superman cape and blast down the hall on crutches believing, as any other 4-year-old, that he could fly.
Aaron started riding at skateparks at the age of 8 when his older brother Brian, a BMXer, said he should drop in. He had been going to the park with Brian and their dad for weeks, but Aaron would just watch from behind the fence. The first time was scary, and he fell hard, but he was never one to give up just because it wasn’t easy. So, he tried again and from then on, he was hooked.
At the beginning of his career, Aaron entered and won a few BMX Freestyle competitions, including the legendary 2005 Vegas AmJam BMX Finals, but for Aaron that was always secondary to the joy of riding and hanging out with friends at all the skateparks in Las Vegas.
Over the years, Aaron has challenged himself to pioneer even more difficult stunts. In 2005, he perfected a mid-air 180-degree turn. Then on July 13th, 2006, he landed the first wheelchair backflip. Four years later, on August 26, 2010 at a camp in Woodward, PA, he landed the first ever double backflip. Since then, he has gone on to perform live on tour with the Nitro Circus. As if this is not enough, on February 9th, 2011, he landed his very first front flip in New Zealand, and on August 25, 2012, he shocked Brazilians by jumping and successfully landing a 50-ft gap off of the Mega Ramp in his chair. He is a four-time winner of the WCMX World Championships and has recently executed the first wheelchair flair/backflip 180.
After posting that first ever backflip on the internet, life has changed for Aaron; he has had the opportunity to travel globally, both performing and speaking. He has attended summer camps for disabled children as a coach/mentor. He has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and sports television. He receives and responds to e-mails from all over the world.
Aaron enjoys showing young kids with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a tool, not a restriction. He loves helping younger children learn how to handle their chairs in new and different ways and teaching them a trick or two. Someday he hopes to design and build the most wicked chair in the world.
Aaron has a passion for what he does. Not only is it a lot of fun, but he wants to change the world’s perception of people in wheelchairs and to help everyone see their own challenges in a new way. Aaron’s appeal is universal. You certainly do not have to be handicapped to be inspired by what he is able to do.
Since we got the information from his website (www.aaronfotheringham.com) that Wheelz has given us permission to print, he has competed in America’s Got Talent: Extreme, coming in second place in the AGT: Extreme Grand-Final. He has been in Guiness Book of World Records five times, including for the longest wheelchair ramp jump.
Wheelz: The Interview
I saw Wheelz on America’s Got Talent: Extreme and knew his story would be a wonderful addition to the May issue. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity, via zoom, to interview Wheelz who was personable, positive, open, humble, very inspiring, and had a good sense of humor,
Faye Simon: How did you get the name “Wheelz”?
Aaron Fotheringham: Friends in middle school called me Wheelies. Then they started calling me Wheels. It stuck but I added the Z.
FS: Do you prefer to be called Aaron or Wheelz?
AF: Wheelz for the most part – only my Mom calls me Aaron.
FS: What does your wife call you?
AF: She calls me “Babe” or “Honey.”
FS: Who are the people in your life that have given you the most inspiration and support throughout your journey?
AF: I got a lot of inspiration from watching BMX riders and action sports in general. There was something about seeing pro BMX riders and pro skateboarders do these tricks that one would think would be impossible, but somehow, they would end up pulling them off. Some would get hurt, but they would push themselves and pull off these huge tricks. For me seeing that at a young age helped push me and let me know there really are no limitations.
And to marry my wife… super supportive and loving. She coaches me and pushes me to be my better self.
FS: What gave you the idea and courage to do these amazing tricks even though you were in a wheel chair?
AF: I didn’t think “even though I am in a wheel chair.” It was “I have this wheelchair.” It wasn’t like a ball and chain. It was an advantage almost. I saw it as I can go fast everywhere. Like going through an airport, no one is faster than me.
FS: Throughout your journey, what was your family’s reaction? Were they supportive, terrified?
AF: My family is awesome. Early on they knew they needed to let me do what I loved to do. They did whatever they could to support me in that. For a while, it was pretty expensive to buy me wheel chair parts, and they still did that and everything they could to support me in the skatepark scene. A huge blessing.
FS: What kind of training do you do to keep your upper body in shape and to deal with this kind of punishment?
AF: When I am back home, I go to the gym every day and go to the skatepark. When I ride the tall Nitro Circus ramp it has got stairs all up the side. So, when I am there, I carry myself up one stair at a time. It’s quite a workout. But it is like I am working out and having fun. I sit on one stair and do like shrugs all the way up.
FS: What is the design process and who do you work with to design and build your performance wheelchairs?
From the time I was nine until right before Covid, I had a good friend of mine build my chairs. He is basically like a father, mentor to me. I met him when I was nine. His name is Mike, who owns a company called Box Wheelchairs. He has been teaching me all along how to build wheelchairs and metal fabrication that goes into it. So, for two or three years I have been building my own chairs. I am super grateful to him for teaching me everything. I am thinking of possibly having my own wheelchair business.
FS: Do you have any motorized wheelchairs?
AF: Not at this moment but I have looked into it, because speed is always good.
FS: Tell us about your journey to and on America's Got Talent, whatever highlights you would like to share.
AF: When it first happened that I would be able to have the big ramp on AGT, and have that opportunity, it was like “No way, this is awesome!” I worked with Nitro Circus (they are the only people that have the big ramp) and AGT to get that ramp there. It was up to me to make sure I pull off my tricks and land them.
Being able to do my audition in front of the judges, crashing my first one and being able to get up and landing the second try…. It was, I would have to say, the most stressful moment of my life. Just because, I was like, NOOOO, I have to land this trick. I was glad I was able to get back up and do it again. And even to be able to make it to the finals, it is more than I could have ever dreamed.
FS: When you are up on that extremely high, high ramp, are you terrified, excited? I was terrified watching from the safety of my living room!
AF: Definitely excited, mostly terrified. No matter how comfortable you get, you get up there and think, “Man this is serious”.
FS: How long train do you train for each trick?
AF: Every trick is a different investment. Some come pretty easily, like you land it in a day. Those are beautiful, but rare. Some tricks I have spent up to ten years working on before I was able to land it. You first start dreaming about it and then you try it and try it and you keep failing. It feels like it’s this far away dream and then years later, you’re in the right situation, you tried it enough. Some are quicker than others, but I just think that means that the ones that take forever to land are just that much better.
FS: After America's Got Talent, what did you do?
AF: I was on a Nitro Circus tour in Australia. Got to do eight shows in a month. It was about two a week and it was a lot of fun. I love riding the big ramp and am excited anytime I get the opportunity.
FS: What’s next for you?
AF: A couple things. As far as the riding, there’s more tricks I am working on. There are always more tricks. I am working on getting the back flip 360 landed again, and getting more comfortable on that ramp. While I am home, I am actually working on building wheelchairs and making a better skatepark chair and another chair for the mega ramp.
I have built chairs for friends and for my wife, and I sold a chair. I am trying to decide exactly what I want to do. I got into it because I break a lot of stuff. I am not sure that is what I want to do full time. I still want to do the riding and jumping. It is something I am exploring.
FS: How do you feel about people asking if you need help?
AF: I would prefer they don’t, unless it is something they would ask anyone not in a wheelchair, like if I was trying to carry a heavy TV. They should just watch and let it be my responsibility to ask for help, if it is a regular activity. I have my way of doing things, even if it looks difficult or awkward.
FS: Do you have words of advice for people who are mobility challenged?
AF: I think a lot of the time people who are facing a mobility problem, such as myself, it is easy to see where you want to be and see the barriers that you feel are stopping you from getting there. It is not that there is not pains and hardship, it is not pretending they aren’t there, because it is true, but there is always some kind of blessing you can look on and you can notice from each situation. I think it may suck that I can’t walk, but I have a wheelchair.
I think sometimes looking at the whole picture and trying to figure out every little detail is kind of discouraging. I honestly think keeping a positive mind and just doing what you love is important. There are obviously things a disability stops you from being able to do, like, I can’t walk, but life did give me a different set of wheels. Sometimes it’s not how we first visualized it, but I think we can have a good quality of life regardless of our situation.
We are not encouraging our readers to go out and try the amazing and dangerous stunts that Wheelz performs. But we hope that we all can learn from his positive attitude, determination, not letting fear rule him, and his ability to get up and try again when something does not go as planned.
To learn more about Wheelz, visit his website at www.aaronfotheringham.com
or his youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/AaronFotheringham
Read the article here.