SANDY — On the bottom of his wheelchair, Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham has a checklist in permanent ink: back flip, Superman, mega ramp.
In July 2006, the Las Vegas native, who is now 19, checked off "back flip" after becoming the first person to land one in a wheelchair.
"I wake up every day and I'm hoppin' on my wheelchair but I don't even think of it as a wheelchair," Fotheringham said. "Really, it's more of a BMX bike."
Fotheringham was born with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord.
"It has something to do with your spine, but I've never spent the time to research it so your guess is as good as mine what it does," Fotheringham said.
When he was 8, he was watching his older brother Brian in a skate park when he told him to drop into a quarter pipe.
"I was down," Fotheringham said. "At first I found out it was pretty hard to do it on the chair. The first couple drop-ins, I fell on my wrists and on my face. Eventually, I got it. It was sweet."
His mom was hesitant about the idea at first, but his dad was persuasive.
"She doesn't like to watch the crashes," Fotheringham laughed. "They're the best part."
After he started riding half-pipes, his wheelchair only lasted nine months. Since then — as the pioneer of wheelchair freestyle — he has been the "guinea pig" for many chairs, testing them for durability and capability. He wants to start a business to manufacture and sell wheelchairs custom built for tricks.
"I'm trying to get more people into it and maybe sometime have competitions for it," Fotheringham said.
His wish is starting to pan out. Fotheringham says he's watched YouTube clips of other people trying tricks, likely inspired by his own.
Fotheringham has landed a double back flip, grinded rails, pirouetted 360 degrees on a single wheel and more. When he shows his tricks to kids in wheelchairs, their visions of their chairs change.
"They see the chair as a toy, and that's the way you got to see it," he said. "After I'll do a trick, I'll notice they just get like real pumped up and they try it on their chair."
Despite his accolades, when he arrives at a skate park, people often doubt him.
"I get a lot of strange looks a lot of times when I roll into a skate park for the first time," Fotheringham said. "People are like, 'Does he know what he's doing? Should I stop him?' But they end up being cool with it."
Fotheringham flew into town Monday to spend a little more than a week with his friends Casey Cook and Stephanie Daily.
"He's one of the best people I know," Cook said. "Good through and through."
Fotheringham is training for a Nitro Circus Tour show to be held in Las Vegas this June. The tour has traveled around Europe, featuring stunts from freestyler tricksters from around the world. Cook and Daily said Fotheringham generates more excitement than anyone on tour.
Cook says one of the tricks he wants to pull off in Vegas is the Superman, which would add another check to the bottom of his wheelchair. The idea is to leave the wheelchair in midair and pull it back before hitting ground.
"(It will be) like a my-chair-doesn't-own-me type of feeling," Fotheringham said.