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Aaron Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham performing extreme wheelchair stunts at a park in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: BARRY BLAND/BARCROFT MEDIA LTD/Fame Pictures)

Wheelchair Wheelies

A Las Vegas teen sets a skate-park world record

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Aaron Fotheringham performing extreme wheelchair stunts at a park in Las Vegas, Nevada. Aaron has a specially-adapted wheelchair that helps him pull off his incredible stunts. (Photo: BARRY BLAND/BARCROFT MEDIA LTD/Fame Pictures)
Aaron Fotheringham performing extreme wheelchair stunts at a park in Las Vegas, Nevada. Aaron has a specially-adapted wheelchair that helps him pull off his incredible stunts. (Photo: BARRY BLAND/BARCROFT MEDIA LTD/Fame Pictures)

Aaron Fotheringham has been amazing people with backflips and other skate-tricks throughout his teens. The 18-year-old's skillful stunts have made many crowds at his favorite skate park in Las Vegas, Nevada, cheer. But Aaron's signature backflip won worldwide notice in 2008—in the form of a Guinness World Record. Why did his particular backflip earn such an honor?

Aaron was the first person to successfully perform a backflip in a wheelchair.

Unique Wheels

Aaron was born with spina bifida, a condition that prevents a person's spinal bones from forming properly. He has been in a wheelchair since the age of 3.

Since then, he has been figuring out the physics of his wheelchair through trial and error. He has even developed a new extreme sport in which wheelchair-bound athletes use their chairs like skateboards or bikes to do tricks. Aaron calls it "hardcore sitting."

Now Aaron's friends call him "Wheelz," and he says it's a huge compliment.

Air Time


Though Aaron makes his stunts look easy, doing tricks in a wheelchair is very different from using a skateboard or BMX bike.

James Riordon, a skateboarder and scientist at the American Physical Society, agrees.

"It's a completely different skill set," says Riordon.

If a skateboarder goes into a flip like Aaron's and doesn't start out with enough spin, he or she can tuck in to speed up. This allows a skateboarder to make a complete revolution in time for a successful landing. But Aaron can't tuck his body in any more than it is already.

That means Aaron has to have everything perfect before going into a flip. He needs to launch himself to just the right height. If he doesn't, he could wipe out on the concrete.

"My rotation is so quick, I don't have much time to think," says Aaron.

Extreme Practice

Aaron's stunts take a lot of practice. He tries to make it to the skate park every day to work on his backflip and try out new tricks.

Even though he's a top-notch athlete, Aaron doesn't always land his stunts perfectly. Sometimes he makes it, and sometimes he overshoots and gets roughed up. But Aaron says he doesn't let bad landings stop him. He gets right back up and goes for it again.

He also competes in the BMX division at the Vegas Am Jam and travels all over the United States and abroad to perform at extreme-sporting events, like last year's X Games.

He even appeared on the television show Secret Millionaire, where he received $20,000 from undercover millionaire Greg Haerr to pursue his dream of designing his own wheelchairs and teaching others his wheelchair stunts. —Karina Hamalainen

CHECK OUT SCIENCE WORLD®

This article originally appeared in Science World, an award-winning Classroom Magazine for grades 6–10 that brings science to life with fascinating feature articles and hands-on activities that cover every area of the science curriculum: Life, earth, and physical sciences, plus environment, space, health, and technology.

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