Ilaria Naef turned her wheelchair into wings

Photo credit: Yoocan, Ilaria Naef
Photo credit: Yoocan, Ilaria Naef /

Ilaria Naef conquered fear and chased her dreams, becoming one of the world’s best WCMX riders, changing the perception of what you can do in a wheelchair.

Ilaria Naef originally shared her story with Yoocan, a global collaborative community where people with disabilities share experiences and knowledge — so that no one feels alone. Yoocan and Why We Play are a natural match and overlap in the most important thing for our community INSPIRATION. FanSided is excited to partner with Yoocan and share some of their stories on our website — exciting and fantastic sports stories from people with disabilities. Come check out more of our joint material, and keep following for collaborations!

Hi, my name is Ilaria and I am from Italy. I discovered WCMX when I was about 14, watching skate videos on YouTube. I had been dreaming of becoming a skater, but I kept it a secret because I thought it was impossible since I have CP and can barely walk on crutches. I immediately fell in love with WCMX. I decided to email Aaron to find out more about this sport. To my delight, he replied and later told me he was coming to Italy for a TV Show, and that we could meet. The day I met him was the best day of my life! I understood that my wheelchair could give me freedom, and decided I’d do everything I could, to make my dreams come true.


Making the choice to use the chair instead of the crutches wasn’t easy, because the people close to me didn’t really understand and thought I was giving up, but I was actually doing the opposite. Using the wheelchair more than the crutches was the best decision of my life, it gave me much more independence and confidence, everything became easier and I could do pretty much everything. But I still couldn’t start riding WCMX because I didn’t have my skate chair and there were no riders in Italy and no skateparks nearby.


I was studying German at the University, and I moved to Germany as an exchange student for a semester. I met David, the first german WCMX rider, and he taught me the basics of WCMX. The experience in Germany changed my life because living on my own and improving so much in terms of independence and wheelchair skills gave me a lot of confidence. I will always be thankful to David and his girlfriend Lisa for helping me become the person I am today. When I came back to Italy, Mike box made me my first WCMX chair, so that I could keep riding in Italy.


I kept skating in Italy, and I have taken part in international WCMX competitions, such as the world championship, where I won the bronze medal in 2016 and the silver medal in 2019. For now, I am the only WCMX rider in Italy, but I am sharing my story because I hope it will help others change their perception of the wheelchair, and maybe someone else will be interested in riding WCMX with me.


My friends have been very supportive, and with their help, I have been able to do awesome things, for example landing a backflip on the snow. I like to say that I turned my wheels into my wings. Many people tell me that my story really helped them accept and embrace their disability and I think that’s the most important thing. It’s my biggest achievement and I am always happy when I think of this.

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