The Moment My ‘Limiting’ Wheelchair Became My Favorite Toy

When I was about 15 years old, I spent my days on YouTube watching videos of the professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler and skateboarding tutorials. I knew my dream of becoming a skateboarder would never come true — I have cerebral palsy. I can barely walk on crutches, but I’d always wanted to skate. I dragged myself around every day with the help of my crutches or a walker. Then I closed my eyes and imagined my life without a disability and with a board under my feet.

When I was 15, I got my first wheelchair. I can’t walk for long distances, so before I got a wheelchair I was pushed around in a baby buggy whenever we had a long ways to walk. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go, but walking was so exhausting that I really needed to sit down every once in a while. One day, my physical therapist asked me if I would like to get a wheelchair to replace the baby buggy, since I wasn’t a baby anymore. I agreed, so she told my family about it. It was not easy for them — they saw the wheelchair as something “very disabled” people use, and they didn’t see me that way. That is why I didn’t use the chair much in the first year. Walking, though tiring, was still less limiting.

Around the time I got my wheelchair, I was trying to learn German. One day, I was watching a German movie online and I noticed one of the main characters was in a wheelchair. I always read the names of the actors after watching a movie, and one name caught my eye: Aaron Fotheringham, wheelchair stuntman. I wondered what a wheelchair stuntman could do, so I Googled his name. The first results were YouTube videos, and the titles were things like “Wheelchair in a skateboard park.” Needless to say, I immediately pressed play.

That was the moment that changed the way I see my disability. I couldn’t take my eyes off this kid shredding the park on his chair with a motocross helmet on his head. At the end of the video, I was so happy I almost cried. It was possible; I could be a skater. Wheelchairs can be cool.

In that moment, I knew I needed to talk to that guy. I found a contact form on his website and sent him an email. I told him how his videos had opened the door to a whole new world for me, a world where dreams do come true. He replied the next day, and seeing his name in my inbox made me the happiest girl on the planet. There was someone telling me it was OK to have a disability. He was telling me there was nothing wrong with me and that the wheelchair was something to play with; it was not a bad thing. I found out he was not the only one hitting the skatepark on his chair. There was a whole team, a big family. I started dreaming about becoming a member of that family.

A few weeks later, Aaron told me he would be coming to Italy, where I live, for a TV show. They were filming in Rome, a six-hour drive from my town. Not close but not as far as his hometown — Las Vegas. I begged my parents to take me there. I knew I had to meet that kid. Eventually, they agreed to drive me to Rome.

When I met him, I was blown away by what he could do on his chair. Even my parents were impressed. We talked, played and had fun together. When I left Rome, I knew everything was going to be OK. My dreams could come true, and I could become the person I always wanted to be. That was only the beginning: I could also be independent and happy. My wheelchair became my favorite thing to play with. My disability was a blessing.

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 This post originally appeared on Ila’s Crazy Thoughts.

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