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'Wheelchair Palooza' offers community, friendship, opportunities for adaptive programs

Posted at 9:32 PM, Aug 12, 2023

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — The fourth annual Wheelchair Palooza kicked off at Greenwood Skatepark in American Fork Saturday afternoon.

The event brings together wheelchair users and their families from across the state to connect and learn about sports and opportunities.

“Everyone’s super excited to see each other because generally in their day-to-day life, you don't see a lot of folks with wheelchairs,” said Andrew Johnston.

Johnston was at the park with his 6-year-old son Jackson, who has Spina bifida and needs to use a wheelchair or sticks to get around.

He said the event is like Christmas morning for Jackson.

“These events have a lot more people and so it normalizes his experience. He sees a lot of kids that look like him and act like him," Johnston said.

There is a lengthy list of activities and sports for wheelchair users, which are now becoming more accessible for families.

“One of the great things is in Utah, there's a lot of adaptive programs,” explained Amanda King, the president of Utah Adaptive Alliance. “The thing is that they've just been spread out and disconnected in the past. And so kind of really, since COVID we've been working on trying to get it to be a little more cohesive of a thing.”

Families were especially excited to see Aaron Fotheringham, known as "Wheelz," as he showed off his tricks in his sport of wheelchair MX.

“To see, say, Aaron Wheelz here doing his skills and amazing stuff that all these kids aspire to is just really inspirational for them and helps them feel like kids again,” said Johnston.

King said with adaptive sports, there are college national and international level competitions that need visibility and support.

“It’s something that is still just growing in its infancy. If you ever hear about it, you know try and go support it like any other sports,” said King.

Johnston had a similar message, encouraging people to show up.

“Everyone come out,” said Johnston, “I mean, this is not just for people in wheelchairs or disabilities. This is for anybody who wants to see an alternative sort of sports community in the area. You don't see a lot of this normally speaking, but Wasatch Adaptive Sports and all these other groups are tremendous assets.”