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Katherine Beattie hits the rail during the WCMX No Excuses Throwdown. Photo Jeff Gallemore

No Excuses

Online Exclusive posted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 1:48pm

Wheelchair motocross recently took over the Irving Convention Center during the WCMX No Excuses Throwdown

Wheelchair motocross (WCMX) enthusiasts from across the country recently gathered in Irving, Texas, for the WCMX No Excuses Throwdown to shred their best moves. So, what is WCMX? It’s skateboarding in a wheelchair. If you haven't heard of it, chances are you will very soon. 

There are no statistics showing how many “skaters” currently take part in the sport, but the sense is a groundswell of popularity is bubbling under the surface primed to explode in the next few years.

The event, hosted by RISE Adaptive Sports, kicked off with an open skate followed by the skateboarding and BMX competition preliminaries. Saturday led off with a four-hour WCMX/adaptive skate clinic followed by opening ceremonies with an honor guard provided by the Paralyzed Veterans of America Lone Star Chapter. Awards were presented to the clinic standouts, and then the BMX, skateboarding, and WCMX finals concluded with cash prizes awarded to the top 10 finishers in each category.

All across the country guys and girls, young and old are taking their wheelchairs to skate parks to shred like any skateboarder or BMX rider. The popularity of X-Games, more skate parks, better equipment and YouTube has created all the ingredients for WCMX to flourish. 

In 2006, Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham landed the first ever wheelchair back flip and posted it on YouTube. That video went viral with over two million views and the world got its first glimpse of WCMX.

For Fotheringham, it all started six years prior to that epic stunt when he would go with his brother to the skate park. While the other kids were riding their skateboards or BMX bikes, Fotheringham took to the ramps on his chair. 

He continued to come up with new tricks and challenge himself. He then set his sights on landing the back flip, which eventually paved the way for him to become an international attraction. He now travels all over the world for speaking engagements and performs with Nitro Circus. 

He's been featured in magazines and newspapers and on television, including a Chevrolet commercial that ran during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Jack Harvey grinds the rail during the WCMX No Excuses Throwdown. Photo Paul Wilkins

Despite all of his accolades and fame, he still enjoys the simplicity of a day shredding at a skate park. He loves working with disabled kids at clinics and is a natural at teaching and being a mentor. Kids are in awe of him, but he quickly makes them feel comfortable. Watching him during a clinic, it quickly becomes apparent that he has a knack for making sure each kid gets his attention whether it’s giving pointers on doing a trick, encouraging him or her, or simply taking time for a photo.

"A lot of these kids are doing better than I did my first day,” says Fotheringham. “While they're here, they're not thinking of their chair as a medical device and they're having fun with it just like a kid goes and buys a skateboard. It's the same thing, but it's taking something you have that a lot of people would call a challenge and turning it into something awesome."

One thing Fotheringham wants children to take away from the clinics is not to let the wheelchair or disability define who they are. Fotheringham never refers to himself as being "in a chair". Instead he uses the term "on a chair". He wants kids to think of their chairs as a fun toy.

Others got caught up in the WCMX fever, including current pro surfer and WCMX rider Christiaan "Otter" Bailey. Bailey was a pro surfer and skateboarder when he suffered a spinal-cord injury in 2006 while being filmed for a skate video. Soon after his injury he discovered WCMX. Two days out of rehab he was back in the water surfing. Soon after, you could find him at the skate park honing his tricks, but now in a wheelchair. 

By 2009, Bailey was back on top and competing in surfing competitions all around the world. He is unequivocally considered one of the top WCMX riders in the world. Like Fotheringham, Bailey has a passion for coaching and mentoring WCMX clinics. He travels internationally providing clinical instruction to those hungry for the sport.

"It's important to follow your passion in life no matter what challenges you have and no matter what trials and tribulations life throws at you,” says Bailey. “To be able to come out to programs such as these really helps them break down those personal barriers and explore who they are. You'd be amazed at how you can see the transition in their attitude – it's almost instantaneous."

One instantaneous transformation came for 13-year-old Jack Harvey, who tried WCMX for the first time at No Excuses Throwdown. After some coaching from a couple of the WCMX pros, and a few unsuccessful attempts at grinding the rainbow rail, Harvey made a clean run like the pros. 

"I wanted to give this a try. I really like doing this. It's a lot of fun", says Harvey. "I've been watching him (“Wheelz”) since I was like 10 years old, and he's my hero. He's given me so much inspiration and courage just to do all this stuff." 

Bailey warns WCMX newcomers not to try “dropping in” without proper instruction, especially for the younger generation. Experienced riders can make it look easy, but it is a very technical trick that requires a precise wheelchair angle and body balance to land it properly. As with any extreme sport, it can be dangerous and should be approached with caution.

Safety is always top priority, and wearing a full-faced crash helmet along with knee and elbow pads are a must at any skate park, especially when attempting tricks like dropping into a bowl, off a quarter pipe, or down a half pipe.

Most WCMX riders prefer skate parks with a concrete ramp layout versus the modular ramps surfaced with wood. Concrete ramp courses tend to have smoother roll-ins and transitions at the bottom of the ramps. The smooth concrete also allows WCMX riders to retain more speed and keep momentum flowing longer throughout a course.

Mike Box, founder of Box Wheelchairs, never wanted to build a "skate" chair.  He thought the sport was too dangerous and wanted no part of it. Then he met Fotheringham.

Box couldn't stop Fotheringham from riding on his chair at the skate park, so he set out to build the safest chair possible. Each chair Fotheringham destroyed at the skate park led to changes and new improvements. Box WCMX chairs are built with airplane-grade aluminum, reinforced framing, a grinding bar, adjustable rear axle compression shocks and Frog-Legs front casters able to reach high speeds without wheel flutter.

It was Fotheringham and Bailey who orchestrated the first ever adaptive skate clinic with Life Rolls On (LRO) in the summer of 2010. The summer of 2011 was another benchmark moment for WCMX. WCMX quickly picked up popularity and was ultimately included in a competition for the first time during The Shoe City Open in Venice Beach, Calif. The formation of WCMX as an organized sport was born.

RISE Adaptive Sports continued the trend by bringing an adaptive skate clinic to Irving, Texas. RISE took these events to a whole new level when it created the concept for the No Excuses Throwdown. Building upon the adaptive skate clinics, co-hosted with LRO in 2012 and 2013, RISE set out to create an all-inclusive event. 

RISE wanted to elevate WCMX to an equal status with skateboarding and BMX and came up with the No Excuses Throwdown. The theme is "we're not looking for perfection, just no excuses."

The best WCMX riders in the world came to compete and they didn't disappoint.  Fotheringham performed his patented flip numerous times and put on a fantastic show to take first-place. The surprise of the competition was first-time WCMX competitor, Luke Acuna, who captured third-place behind Bailey's second-place finish. 

Wheelchair motocross popularity may be bubbling under the surface now, but there are indications it could erupt on the scene in a big way very soon at a skate park near you. Stay tuned.

For more information, visit RISE Adventures online.



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