Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is a brand ambassador for Drivability and a four-time world champion of WCMX, the extreme wheelchair sport he invented and pioneered. He is also an inspiration to all who meet him.
Kyle Petty is a world-famous former stock car driver, a racing commentator and the founder of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, an annual motorcycle trek that raises funds and awareness for Victory Junction, a no-cost-to-families summer camp for children with serious medical conditions.
The two sat down during the (virtual) 2021 Abilities Expo for a wide-ranging discussion on perseverance, persistence, drive and the importance of being surrounded by supportive people, among other things.
While connectivity issues during their conversation prevent us from posting the video, we are pleased to share some of the highlights below. Enjoy!
Kyle Petty: You’re kind of like the godfather of WCMX. You pretty much invented it. What inspired to develop this new sport?
Wheelz: There were a few other guys I’d see dropping in at skate parks. What I really liked about it was that I didn’t have to be on a team. I could go to the park on my own and be as creative as I wanted. The fact the skate park wasn’t adaptive almost made me love it more. I liked going to a regular skate park and trying to do what I was seeing the skaters and bikers do, just with my wheelchair.
Kyle Petty: You were born with spina bifida and you turned it into an opportunity. Where does that come from, the ability to turn obstacles into opportunities?
Wheelz: It’s true spina bifida has given me some hard times, especially with the surgeries. But honestly, I’ve always felt there was a way out and that I still had something going for me. In my case, it was the wheelchair. You know, the wheelchair is sometimes seen as limiting; it has a stigma. But it’s all I’ve ever known, and, in a sense, it has really enabled me. It literally helps me get around and it has also helped me achieve a lot of different goals in my life. It’s really just a multi-tool.
Kyle Petty: Why is it important to be surrounded by people who support and encourage you?
Wheelz: My parents treated me just like any of the other kids. I didn’t always like that because I wanted special treatment [laughs]. But I think it was one of the best things that they could have done for me. Then I got linked up with pro skaters and bikers. When you tell someone you’re thinking about trying something but that you’re terrified, they all come together to support you – they all get so hyped up, it really helps me feel like yeah, I can do this. I can push myself to get this done.
Kyle Petty: What do you tell kids who want to follow you into WCMX?
Wheelz: I’ve had a lot of opportunities to coach and get kids into the sport and, honestly, it’s the best thing to be able to plant the seed in their head that if you stick with it and keep pushing you can be successful in this sport. Just like with anything else, when you apply yourself, anything is possible.
The Driveability program provides customizable adaptive upfits to help make life easier for people with disabilities. Visit the program website to learn more about the available $1,000 reimbursement on the purchase of qualifying equipment.
This interview has been edited.