(Two of my aunt’s children have spina bifida (both are adopted, so there is no genetic link to our own unborn baby boy’s spina bifida). I haven’t had the courage to call and talk to her yet--I’m still feeling tender and raw over the discovery, and I’m not yet ready to face it to that extent. Fortunately, she understands, and my mother says she’s ready to talk with me whenever I’m ready. I’m going home for a visit in two weeks (to help my mother pick out a headstone for my father’s grave, because I’m the geologist and I know the most about rocks), and I’ll probably meet with my aunt then. My mother, of course, has been talking to my aunt about our baby, and sharing some of the stories with me secondhand. This story is about the older of my aunt’s sons with spina bifida, Aaron.)
Aaron has finally found his niche in life--in a skate park, doing wild and crazy (not to mention dangerous) stunts. This is not unusual for a teenager, but Aaron’s situation is a little different. He is paralyzed from the waist down, and confined to a wheelchair. For the last two years, he has been going to the concrete skate parks and trying all the tricks he can think of--he practices with skateboarders and dirt-bikers. He loves it, and it shows in his attitude toward life.
Aaron’s crazy tricks caught the attention of the wheelchair company Colours Wheelchair, and they have taken him under their wing (giving him a wheelchair for free, and then, when he thrashed it to bits, replaced it with one built to his specifications). In July, Aaron made “wheelchair history” by landing the first airborne backflip in a wheelchair. This may even be Guinness Book of World Records stuff! This type of wheelchair-skateboarding (Aaron calls it “hard-core sitting”) is starting to catch on, and, who knows, it may even become an event in the Para-Olympics*. On Colours' website, they have a short video of some of Aaron’s crazy tricks. (Click on Aaron Fotheringham--and notice that almost everywhere Aaron is doing these things, he’s the only one in a wheelchair. Everyone else is on bikes and skateboards.)
If you go watch the video, pay special attention to the last bit. The little boy in the wheelchair is a friend of Aaron’s little brother. His family has had a hard time accepting their son’s spina bifida disabilities--they resisted getting him a wheelchair, even though it was recommended to give him far greater mobility than his leg braces. However, after hearing about some of the stuff Aaron can do, and seeing some of the video that had been shot, the mother of this young boy called my aunt and asked if Aaron would be willing to show her son how to really use the wheelchair they were getting him. Aaron did a couple of simple things with this boy, and then eventually took him to the skate park. They did very simple, very gentle, but very fun tricks together. When they were done at the skate park that night, this little boy told his mother, “I felt like an eagle.”
This is what Aaron wants to do “when he grows up”. He wants to help other children with disabilities to feel like “eagles”. This is what I want to do with my own little boy--to teach him not be earthbound and restricted because of his challenges. I don’t know how to do it, yet. But I am so grateful for Aaron’s example, for his parents’ examples, in showing me it can be done. We can teach our little baby how to fly.(*Edited for correction--Originally I mistakenly wrote "Special Olympics" instead of "Para-Olympics". The Special Olympics are for mentally disabled athletes, the Para-Olympics are for physically disabled athletes. BIG difference, in that in the Special Olympics emphasis is placed on participation, and the Para-Olympics are as competitive as the more famous Olympics. Thanks to emailer Kent for pointing out my mistake!)