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

Check out the story online at agassizharrisonobserver.com to see a video of Jim Ryan’s flight over the Harrison Mills countryside.

Just Posted

Chilliwack city council sides with seniors against five-storey apartment project

Developer sent back to the drawing board over concerns about sun-blocking building downtown

Ryan McMahon brings new tunes to Acoustic Emporium in Chilliwack

Album is ‘snapshot of a soon-to-be middle-aged man trying to beat the blues,’ says singer-songwriter

Odd Fellows of B.C. elect first woman as Grand Master

Chilliwack’s Trudie Brisson installed into top role for long-running organization

Chilliwack Symphony Orchestra serves up A Noteable Summer’s Evening

Singer Ken Lavigne will be the main entertainment for the CSO’s annual fundraiser dinner concert

Chilliwack vintage shop swings open doors at new location

Marion’s Dressing Room the newest place to shop on Mill Street

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Most British Columbians agree the ‘big one’ is coming, but only 50% are prepared

Only 46 per cent of British Columbians have prepared an emergency kit with supplies they might need

B.C. man to pay Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party $20k over lawsuit

Federal judge shut down Satinder Dhillon’s ‘nonsensical’ motion to bar use of PPC name in byelection

Sitting and sleeping on downtown sidewalks could net $100 fine in Penticton

The measure, which still requires final approval, would be enforced between May and Sept. 30

Survey finds 15% of Canadian cannabis users with a valid licence drive within two hours of using

Survey also finds middle-aged men are upping their usage following legalization

B.C. man killed in logging accident ‘would have done anything for anyone’

Wife remembers 43-year old Petr Koncek, father of two children

Ottawa spending $24.5M to research on health benefits, risks of pot use

$390,000 will fund two cannabis public awareness

Most Read