Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is unstoppable.
On the ramps of Woodward West in Tehachapi, California (US), Aaron, a professional wheelchair motocross (WCMX) athlete soared into history by setting three titles in celebration of Guinness World Records Day, despite a dramatic crash on his final attempt.
At the age of eight, Aaron, who hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, began using a wheelchair for mobility. His condition, spina bifida, caused him to lose the ability to utilize his legs. But relying on a wheelchair didn’t deter him from reaching his goal to become a professional athlete.
"When I was a kid I dreamed about being a pro-skater or a pro-BMX rider, I just loved watching X Games," he said. "I was born with spinal bifida and it gave me a different set of wheels to try and make it happen."
"First time I ever dropped into a skate park, I was 8 years old. From that point, I was completely hooked on it and kept chasing it."
Through his successful attempts and passion for WCMX, Aaron now adds new titles to his impressive roster. He currently holds the the First landed wheelchair backflip (in 2008), and Highest ramp jump by wheelchair (60 cm in 2010), and the Longest duration balancing a side wheelie(manual wheelchair) (18.22 seconds in 2012) titles.
To start his record breaking day, Aaron attempted to beat the current minimum of 8.23 m (27 ft) for the Tallest quarter pipe drop-in on a wheelchair. On his first try, he successfully dropped-in at an incredible 8.40 m (27 ft 6.7 in).
"That one was pretty scary. It was a good warmup for the day. I get up there and I’m just like 'phew, I feel like I’m on top of the world'. It's scary because you're looking over the edge and it looks like you're going to drop all the way to the bottom."
Aaron then set his sights on the Farthest wheelchair ramp jump and Highest wheelchair hand plant titles, which included minimums of 15.24 m (50 ft 9 in) and 8.23 m (27 ft) respectively. Using his momentum from his ramp jump, Aaron figured he would be able to follow through immediately after with the hand plant title.
He managed to clear the jump first time but failed to hand plant. Determined to clear both titles nearly simultaneously, he tried them again, successfully landing the jump with a jaw-dropping 21.35 m (70 ft 0.5 in) and hand planting at 8.40 m (27 ft 6.7 in).
Despite achieving the records, Aaron wanted to go further. But his final attempt proved to be spectacular for all the wrong reasons as he crashed after bouncing off the top of the pipe.
"I got a little caught up in the moment and thought 'well, since the first gap worked, why not go for the biggest one?'. When I was up top I had a feeling I might not get the speed but figured there’s only one way to find out.
"I went for it and I came up a little bit short which wasn’t very good. I cased it and then pretty much bounced all the way to the bottom of the lander. I escaped fairly good with no injuries and we lived to ride another day."
Guinness World Records adjudicator Adam Brown was onsite to verify the attempts, and this his account of how the day unfolded.
"Aaron was very enthusiastic from the start and was excited for the day ahead. He had tremendous faith that his ability and experience would be enough to achieve the records.
"After comfortably achieving the Tallest quarter pipe drop-in on a wheelchair Aaron set his sights on the Farthest wheelchair ramp jump and decided that upon landing this he would go straight into attempting the Highest wheelchair hand plant as momentum would already be with him. The speed Aaron reached in the run up to the ramp jump was incredible.
"He looked fearless as he reached the lip and flew through the air before touching down to achieve the ramp jump, though he didn’t stick the hand plant and slid down the side of the quarter pipe. He valiantly dusted himself off and went again, on his second attempt for the hand plant title he not only achieved the record but also bettered his original ramp jump record set just moments earlier."
"Buoyed by this Aaron was pumped to go one further and try to beat his distance again by taking off from a bigger ramp that would lead to further distances.
"Whilst in mid-air Aaron let out a few words expressing his realisation that he wasn’t going to make the jump and came up short, hitting the knuckle of the landing rather than clearing it. As he skimmed down the landing, wheels to the sky, everyone onsite had their hearts in their mouths fearing he’d been seriously injured.
"Friends and crew went straight to his aid but before Aaron’s arms were quickly in the air signalling he was OK. Despite this dramatic end Aaron’s cheerful persona soon returned and he vowed to conquer the larger ramp another day!"
"It was a bit overwhelming, you know, for the last week thinking 'oh I've got 3 records coming up; I hope I succeed'. Today has been unreal. I really couldn’t have asked for a better day," Aaron Fotheringham.
"It's a cool feeling to be in a position where kids and adults look up to me, and I can show people that a wheelchair is a bit more than just a medical device; it's actually a tool to help you succeed. And that's been really cool."
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