A SPASTIC QUAD IN THE SKY?
Rob was a glider pilot there and offered to take us up in turns. I went up first and ended up stealing all the airtime because I really enjoyed it. Two years later, I was in an automobile accident with catastrophic injuries. All this left me medically categorized as "spastic quadriplegic" with no speaking voice. Now I am in long-term rehab learning to walk and talk again. I have trouble with fine motor movements but these are gradually returning. Eight years after my car accident, with one year left in high school, I was invited to make a comeback to the sky.
My mother had read the article on accessible gliding in the summer issue of "Abilities" magazine. Remembering my enthusiasm for gliding, she could not believe that such arrangements were being made at York Soaring. She contacted the Canadian Paraplegic Association who led her to Charles Petersen.
Charles explained "The Longest Day" event at York and told us we were welcome to come up even though the accessible event was over. It was a very hot day. I was through my exams, ready for an adventure! It took us about an hour to drive up on a scenic route through the Caledon Hills. Approaching the area, we saw several gliders flying in wide circles.
At the club, we watched as a long row of gliders got towed up, up, up and away! We found Charles and he discussed the possibility of my actually going up as a guest that day! He sweet-talked someone in the office and I waited my turn working on my basic summer tan. The issues of my gliding flight were: which glider would I use, how would I get into it, and who would pilot me. The glider chosen to take me up was a wider than average one. The nose could be held down at the front to make it easier for me to get into. Since I have some mobility in my legs and can transfer, I straddled one side of the cockpit to get in. As I was supported on my back from the other side of the glider, my other leg was swung over. I adjusted my seating then had a very tight seat belt put on. When I told Charles, who was originally going to take me up, that I would flip him upside-down, he disappeared for the afternoon and Richard "the Daredevil" Sawyer showed up to do the honors as my designated pilot.
He and I agreed on some hand signals to help communication, left arm up for ‘yes’, right arm up for ‘no’, to answer questions while we were soaring miles high in another world. My mother noticed that the foot pedals were in range of my feet so suggested that something be done about them or Richard may have the flight of his life. After they were pushed up out of the way, we were off!! The takeoff as well as the landing was so soft and smooth, thanks to Richard. Sleeping on a feather pillow couldn’t have been more comfortable.
Up in the air, we found an updraft and started circling. Two other gliders joined us. When we were high enough, we broke away and were on our own. Traveling silently across the landscape, below us we saw Lake Luther. When I was in the air, I could see a lot farther than the average eyes.
It was enthralling! Such a refreshing experience I would recommend to any adventurous spirit. Every gliding club should consider accommodating flights for persons with disabilities. Step-by-step problem-solving is all it takes to get anyone in the air! Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and your camera!
Marlowe was one of more than seventy persons with disabilities who tasted gliding this summer, and what an appetite for our sport these folks have! The magical sense of freedom that we all savour is even richer for someone whose horizons are confined, even on the ground. Kevin R. said of his flight "I’ve been in that chair for 19 years, and this is the most alive I’ve felt in all that time." Gord W. wrote, "I had a fantastic experience on Sunday. I‘m very impressed with the Freedom’s Wings program and the professionalism of the York Soaring club. My flight was certainly the highlight of my year! (if not in my life)." 2003 was the second visit by "Freedom’s Wings International", who have mentored our initiative to establish a Canadian program to mirror theirs.
Our goals were four:
- Validate the community demand for such a program
- Validate the volunteer ethic at York Soaring
- Validate the ‘newsworthy-ness’; the ability to attract press to make sponsorship more attractive
- Establish a strategic alliance with one or more organizations for people with disabilities
We succeeded in all four; almost every flyable day we were over-capacity and used additional aircraft from the club fleet to satisfy the demand; the membership were enthusiastic, contributing time and in some cases, unsolicited funds, generously; we had press coverage, both in the disabled media and mainstream, including CITY TV and CBC; and we are cooperating with "K W Access-Ability" and the Canadian Paraplegic Association to establish and run Freedom’s Wings Canada.
At the end of August we submitted an application for funding to the Trillium Foundation, and expect an answer by Christmas. If successful, we will acquire a new Peregrine (the American-produced Krosno), and have it flying at York for the 2004 season. That will make York an ‘accessible’ club — we will offer "Inspiration Flights" (intro rides) to visitors with disabilities, and to those of them who have the necessary use of hands, flight lessons leading to licence. Then we’ll have to get hand controls in the back seat for instructors with disabilities. The hand controls offer a supplementary ‘rudder stick’, which can be pushed (left rudder) or pulled (right rudder), and a modified spoiler control that permits locking spoilers open in several different positions. We expect to welcome a new and enthusiastic population into our sport, and the PR and corporate funding will also be welcome. But the warm feeling that follows a flight with one of these folks enriches further the experience that we find so fulfilling.
Marlowe enjoys writing very much and tackled this assignment to produce something for free flight with enthusiasm. It was good to have the time as she works with the left index finger making her text entries. We are testing out new software this summer to try to help her increase her writing speed which is presently at three words a minute as she corrects mistakes made by other knuckles brushing the keys as well as repeats if she holds down too long on a key. Also, she is a very busy young lady continuing with her therapies each afternoon and taking long weekends at the cottage where we do not have a computer.
She was away on a communications course for her Dynavox the last two weeks in July. We are looking forward to a taste of the Americans with Disabilities Act which has a lot of oomph to it compared to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act counterpart here. We will return ready to conquer the world, I am sure. This will help Marlowe as she is just beginning a term of office on the Accessibility Advisory Committee for Caledon-Peel.