9 Dec 2012

Wheelz and the biggest ramps he can find

What did the Paralympics teach us this summer? If nothing else, the differences at elite level – between disabled, and non disabled athletes are merely cosmetic. But what about high risk “adrenaline” events like motocross and skateboard?

Can a wheelchair really jump a 50ft ramp just like a BMX? Sound unlikely? It’s a question few would have bothered pondering a few months ago. Well it turns out the answer is unequivocal. Yes it can.

Adrenaline or “action” sport isn’t as visible in the UK as Australia, with its surf, or even Europe, with its mountains.

But it’s North America that leads the way, inventing skate and snowboarding – and then taking it to the masses.

And born in Las Vegas – the city that itself is a symbol of the impossible – a young man who is to the action sport community, what Oscar Pistorius is to sprinting.

Wheelchair Motocross sensation Aaron “Wheelz”  Fotheringham doesn’t just nail playground 180s and railslides on is custom built chair – he rides the biggest ramps there are – 50ft tall.

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With a 40ft gap to the landing zone. The kind of ramp a BMX could pull a triple backflip on. The kind of ramp very few riders would ever contemplate getting anywhere near.

Pioneer in riding ‘freestyle’

Wheelz Fotheringham has just finished touring Europe with the “Nitro Circus”- the brainchild of Travis Pastrana, a renowned motocross athlete who pioneered the art of riding ‘freestyle’.

The Nitro Circus gathers the most talented men and women in the adrenaline fuelled world of BMX, skateboard, and motocross – and puts on a travelling showcase of outrageous jumps, tricks and flips.

It is literally death-defying. They pull their tricks on pretty much any vehicle you might care to imagine.

 The usual bikes, trikes and scooters. Madcap diversions like shopping trolleys, toy barbie cars, and beer coolers. And then there’s Wheelz, in his chair.

Wheelz, Pastrana told me, is “the fulcrum of the show”. The crowd come to see the most talented motocross tricksters in the world – but Wheelz is the big ticket draw.

“Wheelz is a unicorn”, says Pastrana. “He’s one of a kind”.
And that’s where the differences end. Because every time Wheelz hoists himself up the 5 flights of stairs to the top of the ramp they all call “Gigant-A”, he risks serious injury – or worse.

Artist and performer

Just like his fellow artistes. Athletes. Performers – call them what you will.

And he knows too well what it is to endure hospital life. He has spina bifida, and after one of many operations to try and align his hips while a child, he was given a wheelchair.

He was taken to a ramp by his skateboard mad elder brother aged 8 – and was hooked.

Now Wheelz is 20 – and to coin a phrase from the land of the free – he’s living the dream.

“I never thought it would turn into this”, he said in a Vegas drawl while warming up for the Nitro tour event in London this week.

“My reality has been way better than my dreams”

“My dreams”, he went on, “are trying to catch up with my reality”.

Watch what he can do on his wheelchair – and you’ll soon see why.

You can follow Keme Nzerem on Twitter: @nzerem