Wheelchair Palooza started out of an idea that a group of mothers of children with Spina Bifida in Utah came up with. These mothers enjoyed planning playdates and events that occurred within their Spina Bifida group but wanted to plan something a little bigger where more wheelchair users could gather and connect. After learning about Aaron Fotheringham, aka “Wheelz”, who is a Nitro Circus performer, they reached out to see if he would be interested in showing off his skills at a skatepark in Sandy, Utah. Along with Wheelz, they reached out to other adults in the area that either had Spina Bifida or were involved within the Utah wheelchair community.
The first event brought together over 50 children and it all centered around providing parents with children that use wheelchairs with resources in their community. The event included mini classes and a panel for questions from the community. Kids were taught how to skate in the skatepark on a wheelchair by Wheelz himself. At the end of the event, Wheelz even showed off a few tricks like a backflip in his chair.
Due to COVID the event was delayed in 2020, but resumed in 2021. For the second year, the focus expanded to wheelchair users of all ages. Adaptive Sports organizations were invited along with local representatives for medical supplies. It became more of a small conference for wheelchair users within the Salt Lake Valley and Utah Valley.
Attending the Wheelchair Palooza benefits both wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users. Able-bodied individuals (AB’s as we call them) can interact with people with disabilities while wheelchair users can see good role models and representation for them in their community. Parents of children with disabilities can learn about sports, clubs, and outdoor recreational opportunities, and different medical and transportation equipment that’s available to them.
These types of events are very important to Amanda, the organizer of this event. Growing up, she didn’t see other people in wheelchairs until she was about 7 years old. She attended a Junior Wheelchair Sports camp where she saw kids ages 7 to 18 using wheelchairs. She wasn’t the only one! She went home and told her mom, “There are so many other people in wheelchairs!” She was amazed, and had believed she was the only one. She didn’t feel quite as alone. Then when she started wheelchair basketball in high school, she found a community where she could talk about things she was going through, and they would understand. They wouldn’t tell her what to do but empathize for how she felt or what she was going through. She really didn’t feel alone at this time, especially as a teenager. It is important for Amanda to reach out to as many wheelchair users as she can to help them know they can find a community, feel like they belong in it, and not feel alone.
This year, Wheelchair Palooza will be taking place at Woodward. The location is a nice change for many adaptive events. Having an event outside of the Salt Lake Valley helps us reach individuals who may not live in the Valley and show them that we want them to be included at this event by making it closer to them. Woodward is an excellent location because it features an indoor and outdoor skatepark. In the past we have only used an outdoor skatepark. Also, Woodward attracts a crowd of dedicated outdoor BMXers along with skiers, snowboarders, and mountain bikers. This will help more individuals with disabilities break into this community within Utah. It will also show other communities that wheelchair users are interested in high competition sports.
The adaptive community is growing more and more every year in Utah as we see more events centered around adaptive sports and conferences being offered in the area. As we continue to grow this community, we are becoming a more cohesive adaptive nation in Utah.
Everyone is invited to attend this year’s Wheelchair Palooza on Saturday, September 24th at Woodward Park City. Thanks to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, this event is free for anyone who attends and includes access to the skateparks, lifts, indoor areas, and pizza!