Every other week we spotlight athletes who are making waves in action sports. Check back here to meet the shredders who are pushing the boundaries of human potential.
Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham, 28, is a world record-holding pioneer of wheelchair motocross (WCMX), aka freestyle wheelchair aka “hardcore sitting,” a term he’s been trying to make stick for a while now.
His sport borrows from aspects of skateboarding and BMX, where riders perform big tricks off ramps or in skate parks. Only he does it all in a wheelchair.
Wheelz rides a chair made out of aircraft aluminum. He has a four-link suspension system (similar to a trophy truck), with two tiny skateboard wheels in the front for maneuverability and two large heavy duty wheels in the back on Fox shocks.
He holds several Guinness records: tallest quarter pipe drop-in for a wheelchair (27 feet, 6.7 inches), farthest wheelchair ramp jump (50 feet, 9 inches), highest wheelchair hand plant, first wheelchair backflip (in 2008), the highest ramp jump by a wheelchair (2010), and longest balance of a side wheelie in a manual wheelchair (2012).
On a November day in 2018 at Woodward West, he knocked out three of those records in just a few hours. Guinness World Records called him “unstoppable,” accounting for his determination in not just setting records, but also for breaking one of them again and pushing until he literally crashed.
Wheelz was born with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord that usually makes walking impossible. However, he’s never been confined. The Las Vegas resident has been tearing up skateparks since he was 8, earning major sponsorships and podium wins along the way.
And he’s continually looking to push even harder, whether it’s in other sports (he’s gone tandem skydiving and has done a solo BASE jump off the Perrine Bridge in Idaho) or working on sticking his next major move (a double front flip or back 360) in WCMX.
Shredders, meet Wheelz!
What draws you to action sports?
Ultimately, the gnarliness of them and the risk. But then also the reward of risking your neck and accomplishing something that at one point felt impossible.
What’s your favorite trick, move etc. and why?
My favorite trick that I’ve landed is a backflip 360 and that is because I cannot land it again to save my life.
Where’s your favorite place in the world to shred?
I really enjoy going to California. There’s a skateboard called Fontana South and it’s glorious. It’s easy to get in and out of it with your wheelchair and it flows very well.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration and why?
Pretty much everyone on the Nitro Circus crew and then more specifically Travis Pastrana because he’s a mad man. He has done things no humans should be able to do and it’s extremely inspiring. I was 18 when Nitro hit me up and then things got out of control. Up until that point no one had given me permission to get on a mega ramp. You know it was like ‘we’re not going to let some kid in a wheelchair get on a mega ramp.’ But Nitro heard I was trying to get on one and they gave me the opportunity.
The first time I was like I’m going to die. But I had come to the point where I was like, Well, there’s no cooler way to die, so just go for it.
What do you think it is about action sports that drives participants to continuously raise the bar of human potential or push people beyond their perceived limitations?
I would say it’s really the fact that some of it is life risking and some of it seems impossible. But then I think once something is landed, it opens the door and it doesn’t seem there’s ever a point where you’ve reached the top. I think it draws a lot of people in because you just keep progressing and keep sending it forever as long as your body will hold up.
If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be and why?
Evil Knievel: I met his friends and family but I didn't get to meet the legend himself.
What haven’t you tried in action sports yet but would be interested in exploring?
I messed around a little bit with skydiving, just did tandem jumps. But I did do a solo BASE jump at the bridge. They PCA’d me (pilot chute assist). I’ve always thought it would be cool to drop out of an airplane with a chair, pull the parachute, swoop, ditch the chute, then hit a mega ramp.
You shattered a bunch of records in one day, what was that like?
That was the scariest day of my life.
What’s the next big thing on your agenda?
I want to spend more time riding big air ramps and landing bigger tricks. I’m currently working on landing another back 360, but that one’s killing me right now. I’m also working toward a double front flip, I’ve gotten close to it.
Is there anything else you think would be rad to mention?
We’re always looking for recruits at WCMX so if anyone gets injured, hit me up! ;)
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