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Empowering Athletes With Disabilities

When Aaron Fortheringham first began making a name for himself at skate parks around his hometown Las Vegas, he settled on a name for the extreme tricks he was performing in his wheelchair: hardcore sitting.

“Today it’s known as Wheelchair Motocross (WCMX),” he said. “But it was kind of hard for me to let go of HCS.”

Fotheringham, who was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair his whole life, is an inspiration to any athlete, but especially to those facing similar limitations. 

The action sports athlete, who holds several world records (including the first-ever landed wheelchair backflip and the first landed double wheelchair backflip), has a simple message for anyone interested in sports like WCMX: “Just go for it,” he said.

Big wheels

Fotheringham never let his condition slow him down. As a child, he raced around on crutches, and he would accompany his older brother to skate and bicycle motocross (BMX) events. 

“I really just went for all the free stuff,” he said. “I was getting arms full of stickers and shirts and hats!” 

He then started going to the local skateparks and trying to do some tricks.

The extreme sports coordinator for Las Vegas, Joe Wichert, suggested Fotheringham enter the competitions at the Vegas AmJam. Fotheringham was initially reluctant. 

“At first I was like, ‘Well, there are no wheelchairs — I’m the only guy in a wheelchair,’” he said. “But (Wichert) kept pushing me, and eventually he talked me into it. And he asked me what category I wanted to compete in, and I said, ‘Well, I get a lot of inspiration from BMX riders, and I’ve got some big wheels, so I’ll do BMX.’”


Fotheringham continues to push himself. With the parks being closed during the recent pandemic lockdowns, he’s keeping himself busy by learning how to fabricate his own wheelchairs.

“I’ve been learning how to build wheelchairs in my garage,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ll build the chair and I’ll take it to the skate park, and it’ll just be terrible, the worst thing I’ve ever ridden. But then I’ll build the new one and try it out, and it’ll be a little bit better. 

“I’ve enjoyed that because I can tweak things on the wheelchair to make it work better in the skatepark or with a certain trick.”

Fotheringham encourages anyone interested in WCMX to just go for it. 

“A lot of people assume you have to have a specific chair for WCMX,” he said. “I had a pretty standard wheelchair when I first dropped in. It’s definitely a good idea to eventually get a chair built for it, but if someone’s curious and they just want to see what it’s all about, grab a helmet and go to the skate park and cruise around.”

Getting in the game

For anyone who wants to follow in Fotheringham’s footsteps and compete, his advice is simple. 

“The best way is to get on social media, look up WCMX, and see what’s going on,” he said. “The competitions aren’t very widespread right now, just because there’s not a huge number of people doing it. But we have a competition in California every year, and it’s been in Texas, and then we’ve even had it in Germany. There are a lot of people kind of spread out all over the world that are doing it.”

In Fotheringham’s opinion, using a wheelchair isn’t a limitation. 

“It’s pretty easy to focus on the problem, the issues that come along with a disability,” he said. “Instead, focus on the solution. Don’t be afraid to struggle, that’s part of getting to your main overall goal.”

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