Greg Hemingway pushing Jim Ryan over to see paragliders landing in the field in Harrison Mills. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

VIDEO: Quadriplegic man takes flight over Harrison Mills

Jim Ryan hasn’t moved his arms or legs for three years, but that didn’t stop him from paragliding

Jim Ryan and Greg Hemingway waited in a Harrison Mills field, watching paragliders descend onto the grass. The pair were preparing for their own paragliding adventure, one that would echo years past when Ryan, then a captain with WestJet, had flown with flight officer Hemingway.

“Just like the old days,” 59-year-old Ryan said, looking up at the paragliders turning in the air above them.

“Well hopefully not exactly like the old days,” Hemingway said, then laughed.

Hemingway was making light fun of Ryan’s landing skills as a pilot, but his statement was true in other ways. It wouldn’t be exactly like the old days, because in the old days Ryan wasn’t paralyzed from the neck down.

Three years ago, at the end of March in 2016, the Chillwack man and his family were on vacation in Maui. Diving under water, he found himself twisted by a wave, driven into the sand and paralyzed. At first unable to speak or breath independently, he spent 10 months recovering in hospital, although he wouldn’t regain movement or feeling in his arms, legs and torso.

Now, Ryan is an advocate for people with disabilities, using his skills as a motivational speaker to make change in his community. In 2018, Ryan received the Courage to Come Back award for his work — and has spent the last three years proving that disabilities don’t limit what a person can do.

RELATED: Chilliwack man to be honoured with Courage To Come Back Award

Last summer, Ryan had gone sturgeon fishing with well-known advocated Rick Hansen and taken to the water in a sailboat he was able to steer, thanks to the Disabled Sailing Association of B.C.

And on Monday (May 13), he got the chance to finally make a decade-long dream of paragliding come true.

“I had tried about 10 years ago, but it all came apart,” Ryan said. At that time, working as a pilot, he wasn’t able to make the schedule work with his paragliding instructor. But a few months ago, Ryan decided to call up fellow pilot and paragliding enthusiast Hemingway to see if they could make it happen.

To Ryan’s surprise, Hemingway said yes.

“He was kind of excited about that idea and asked me if I could do it,” Hemingway said, standing near the wheelchair-like contraption that Ryan was getting ready to be lowered into for the flight.

“I asked around about getting one of these, so there was a pilot in the community who had one, so he brought it over.”

Jim Ryan getting ready to be lowered into the gliding chair by his wife Isabelle (centre left). (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

The chair, which is built low to the ground and has straps that cover every part of the body, is designed so people who have the ability to move their arms can do a solo glide if they want. But it also has a backpack-like attachment on the back so a more experienced glider like Hemingway can do a tandem flight.

“I’ve done probably about 150 tandems,” Hemingway said.

”I’ve never done one with a paraplegic before,” he added. “So it will be a first for this.”

“Quadriplegic,” Ryan’s wife Isabelle called out.

“Quadriplegic, sorry.”

“I’m the whole ‘plegic,” Ryan added. “I’m not the partial, I’m the whole.”

These sorts of dry jokes were common while Isabelle, Hemingway and Ryan’s care aide spent the better part of half an hour attempting to maneuver Ryan into the chair, get him strapped down and then bring him up the mountain. It wasn’t an easy task, but judging by Ryan’s final flight, it was worth it.

“It is through the phenomenal help of friends and new acquaintances that make this all work,” he said in an email after his flight, noting that four other paragliders came to help bring Ryan up the mountain and help get him seated properly in the gliding buggy once at the top.

“For someone in a wheelchair who misses flying every day, this is one of the incredible experiences that make life worthwhile,” he added.



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Delta Police Department joins integrated forensics team

Forensics-trained DPD officers will investigate scenes in other cities as well as in Delta

Police say they’ve identified suspects in Bradley Kline homicide in Surrey

Kline, 26, was found dead at 7055 144A St. on Dec. 7, 2018

COLUMN: Scott Road density will help affordability and livability

‘It’s not just good for the environment, it’s good for people,’ writes Delta Coun. Dylan Kruger

Delta police searching for Ladner robbery suspect

The incident took place in the 5400-block Ladner Trunk Road shortly before noon on Saturday, Dec. 7

Madchild headlines ‘Hip Hop For Hunger’ at Surrey’s Strumms ‘n Drums club

Venue at Turf Hotel has hosted a variety of music events in recent months

Seven arrested in 20-man fight between rival gangs in Vancouver

Seven men were arrested but have since been released with no charges filed

SkyTrain strike averted after ‘eleventh-hour deal’ reached

CUPE 7000 says ‘marathon bargaining session’ led to tentative agreement with BC Rapid Transit

China hints at national security trials for 2 Canadians detained for one year

The two Canadians’ detention is largely seen as retaliation for the arrest of a Huawei exec

B.C. seaplane company set to test the first commercial electronic plane

The plane is powered by a 750 horsepower electric motor

Fireballs to fill the sky Friday for brightest meteor shower of the year

Geminid meteor shower features colourful, brighter, longer shooting stars

Province sues over sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after marine lift failed

Hope’s illicit drug death rate rivals Vancouver

Small Fraser Valley district listed among top five per capita in B.C.

First Nations want Big Bar landslide cleared ASAP to allow fish passage

Leadership calling for urgent action and resources to remove obstruction on the Fraser

Most Read