I have been a fan of America’s Got Talent for many years. There is something about people sharing their passions with the world that just lights me up. So, even though I am more a fan of talents like singing and dancing, I was excited when I heard there was a new version of the show coming out called “AGT Extreme.” I wasn’t planning on watching much. People walking on tightropes and such have never really done a whole lot for me. But then I heard about “Wheelz.”
Aaron Fotheringham was born with Spina Bifida. That is a birth defect where the spine does not completely close while a baby develops. In his case, it means that he is paralyzed from the waist down. According to a video on his website, he used to go to the skate park with his older brother Brian and watch him do stunts sitting behind the fence. But Aaron has never been one to sit on the sidelines. He decided he wanted to do some of the same stunts his brother did on a skateboard but using his wheelchair. Apparently, he fell badly on his first attempt, but as soon as he tried again, he was hooked.
He is the first person to successfully perform a backflip in a wheelchair at the age of 14, and a double backflip at the age of 18. These days he performs with Nitro Circus and is considered a wheelchair motocross athlete. I have been loosely following him for years. I’m always impressed when anyone with a disability overcomes obstacles and laughs in the face of what people tell them is impossible. Although some of the things he attempts, in my opinion, are certifiably insane, “Wheelz” has always had my respect.
One of the reasons I was glad to see the first video of him being on AGT Extreme is because I think what he does is incredible, and it was nice to see him get some national exposure. When he was talking to the judges, he told them that he “can’t ride a bike or a skateboard but life gave him a different set of wheels.” He was attempting a 40-foot front flip up a ramp in his wheelchair. If things went well, he would land on the other side.
As he got ready for the stunt, there were butterflies in my stomach, and I was just watching the video. I can’t imagine what he was going through, especially because, during a conversation with Simon Cowell beforehand, he admitted that he doesn’t always land this stunt. With the crowd cheering his name, he gave his wheelchair one final push and flew down the steep ramp. Then he totally wiped out.
The best part of the whole video for me was what happened next.
He got back up.
After getting himself situated in his wheelchair, he looked at the judges and said: “Are we good for another try?” Without really waiting for an answer, he went to the stairs and started climbing them on his butt, the way little kids sometimes do. He asked that someone bring up his wheelchair for him. Simon Cowell urged him not to try again, assuring him that he had done enough. But everyone with a disability knows that when you are attempting to do something you aren’t always successful at, there is a point when it gets personal. And there is no backing down. Aaron asked that the crowd be quiet before he tried again, and the look on his face told me that he was running through the whole process in his head. This time when he flew down the ramp, the outcome was different. He completed the 40-foot front flip, and he stuck the landing. I was so excited as I watched that I yelled “YES”! My voice was so loud that I scared my dog. But it was totally worth it.
Nikki Bella, who is a judge on AGT Extreme, gave him the golden buzzer for his efforts, meaning that he was going straight through to the live show. She told him that he was going to touch the world and that he was the living definition of never quitting.
At the finals for AGT Extreme “Wheelz” attempted an even riskier stunt, the same 40-foot jump but with a backflip in the middle. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick the landing in either attempt. Therefore, he came in second on the show.
It may sound cheesy, but to me, “Wheelz” won a long time ago. By his example, he is showing kids with disabilities that the world can be as big as their dreams are and not to let anything hold them back from what they want to do.
Character and courage are not defined by how many times you fall, but instead by how many times you get back up.
Keep going, “Wheelz.” You are a true Roll Model. You are absolutely amazing!