Being a wheelchair-user or having a disability did not stop these sportsmen and women from participating in extreme or action sports. Through their adventures, they hope to encourage others with disabilities. SPD’s senior advocacy analyst Poh Sho Siam brings us their stories.
(These stories feature trained professionals who spent many hours perfecting their sport and their stunts. You should not attempt these sports unless under professional training or supervision.)
Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham is 24 years old and was born with spina bifida, a spinal cord condition which causes paralysis in his legs. While others perform their stunts on a skate board or a motocross bicycle (BMX), he performs his stunts in his wheelchair.
Aaron started riding at skate parks at the age of eight and progressively tried more difficult tricks. He was known to be the first in the world to do a backflip, double backflip and frontflip in a wheelchair. He fell many times, but is not one who would give up easily. He won several BMX free style competitions and now performs in a touring troupe that provides action sports entertainment.
Aaron enjoys showing children with disabilities that a wheelchair is not a restriction and helping them learn how to handle their wheelchairs in new and different ways. Aaron is passionate about what he does, not only because he thinks that it is a lot of fun, but he wants to change the world’s perception of people in wheelchairs, as well as helping everyone see his/her own challenges in a new way.
Josh Dueck was a skiing coach when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a skiing accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. Today, the 34-year-old Canadian is an alpine sit-skier and Paralympian. A sit-ski, also called a monoski, allows the skier to sit in a molded seat that is mounted to a frame above a single ski.
With the encouragement of his mentor, Josh gained a new outlook and went back to skiing. Josh won a gold and a silver medal in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and a silver medal in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. He also became the first person in the world to complete a backflip in a sit-ski.
Josh serves in a number of foundations. He is the vice-president of the Live it! Love it! Foundation which provides outdoor recreational opportunities for persons with disabilities. He is also an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation which helps remove barriers to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. Through his life and actions, Josh wants to show and inspire others to break down barriers and create freedom from their own limitations.
From a young age, Bethany Hamilton, now 25, wanted to become a professional surfer. Her dream met a major set-back when she was attacked by a shark during a surf session and lost her left arm at the age of 13.
She could not imagine a life without the sport she was so passionate about and decided to try surfing with one arm. Just one month after the attack, Bethany returned to the water and just over a year later, she won her first national title. At 17, Bethany realised her dream and became a professional surfer.
While the accident was not something she would have wished for, she has embraced it as part of her life. According to Bethany, the accident showed her that she could overcome difficulties and fear in fearful situations.
Bethany started her own foundation, Friends of Bethany, to encourage and inspire shark attack survivors and amputees through her life story.
Amy Purdy, 36, had been an avid snowboarder since the age of 15. However, when she was 19, she lost her legs to bacterial meningitis, an infection of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
While en route to the hospital, she experienced respiratory and multiple organ failures. Doctors said she only had a two per cent chance of survival. Amy fought for her life for nearly three months. She lost her spleen, her kidneys, the hearing in her left ear and both of her legs below the knee.
Despite all these, Amy did not stop pursuing her dreams. She went on to find ways to get back to snowboarding, trying different kinds of prosthesis. She even built her own prosthetics when she could not find suitable ones that would allow her to snowboard.
In 2001, Amy participated in a snowboarding competition where she met several adaptive snowboarders who were just as passionate about the sport as she was. She later started the non-profit organisation, Adaptive Action Sports (AAS), with her boyfriend, to help create opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to get involved in action sports. The works of AAS were instrumental in the inclusion of adaptive snowboarding to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
In 2014, Amy won the bronze medal in the debut of snowboard cross at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games. Through her own example, Amy encourages others to believe in their dreams and to face their fears head-on, so as to allow them to live life beyond their limits.
References: Websites, Facebook accounts and interviews of Aaron Fotheringham, Josh Dueck, Bethany Hamilton and Amy Purdy.