Here is something you may not know about me: I enjoy hang gliding and paragliding. There are few things in this world I love quite as much as jumping off a mountain. It’s an experience that’s kind of hard to explain to people who haven’t done it, most of whom look at me highly askance when I say that I enjoy a sport many people think of as highly dangerous and also highly unsuitable for fat people. Au contraire to both beliefs, incidentally.
Here’s the thing. It’s awesome. There’s the ‘oh shit’ moment when you start taking off and realise there’s no going back and ack you really are jumping off a mountain and the ground looks very far away oh no what have I done and then you are soaring above the world. Sometimes birds cruise by and check you out. The view is incredible. It’s quiet and you can feel the wind on your face. It’s, well, the closest we can really ever get to flying, without a set of wings. It’s so glorious it almost hurts sometimes.
One of the attitudes I encounter a lot when I talk about people with disabilities and sports is the idea that we can’t do sports because of our impairments, or just puzzlement over ‘how it all works,’ despite the ample evidence for disabled athletics all around us. For those of us who are athletes or who are interested in sports, trust me, we figure out a way to make it work.
With hang gliding and paragliding, there are some definite accessibility issues; for example, sometimes you need to hike out to good spots, but there’s absolutely no reason full time wheelchair users can’t hurl themselves off mountains too, should they feel so inclined, and as is often the case with sports, people are often really interested in working together to make something happen for someone who shares their love of an activity. There are a lot of different options for people with physical disabilities interested in gliding, including both solo and tandem rigging with baskets or sports chairs designed (or hacked) for gliding.
So, when I was talking to a tandem partner the other day and he expressed skepticism about wheelchair users and paragliding…I went on a YouTube hunt to disprove him, and here’s what I found.
Be advised that these videos have a lot of background wind noise so you may want to mute them.
A video showing a wheelchair user’s paragliding start. The rigging is checked and someone runs behind the sports chair pushing it until the canopy swoops up and she takes off. The video concludes with a shot of the glider hovering over a wooded landscape, rapidly disappearing from view.
Another wheelchair paragliding start, also with an assistant to push the chair. The glider takes off halfway through, and the video zooms in to track the flier across the landscape.
A takeoff and landing, including some time spent in the air. Voices in Polish can be heard in the background.
A paraglider who chooses to transfer to a basket for flying. Assistants help get the flier in the air and he skims over water on what looks like a great day for flying before being joined by other gliders. Piping music with a strong beat comes on as he soars. This is an excerpt from the film Shared Flight.
I try to contain my gliding evangelism in the interesting of not boring/annoying people, but I will say that chances are high that if you’re interested in flying, someone would probably love to take you up!