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

Stellar Haze offers up ‘organic rock’ at Memorial Park

Trio hitting the stage for their first live performance this Friday

RCMP, ERT attending incident at Cheam First Nation

Few details are available about the incident, which saw more than a dozen police cars attend

Chiefs kick off exhibition pre-season stint at Hope Arena

Catch the Chilliwack Chiefs on the ice as they prepare for fresh season

Annual Peters family ball tournament draws a dozen teams to Hope ball diamonds

Recently upgraded field at the Schkam reserve the backdrop for this year’s event

Kent quarry opposition receives federal support

Green Party leader Elizabeth May wrote to the provincial government to oppose the quarry application

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Forests minister visits B.C. town rocked by multiple mill shutdowns

A third of Mackenzie turns out for rally, not much to cheer about

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

North Van music teacher accused of sexual misconduct involving girls

Police believe other victims could be out there after the arrest of Lamar Victor Alviar

B.C. family stranded in Croatia desperate to come home

Funds being raised to bring back mom and two children

B.C. man on trial for daughters’ murders says an intruder broke in

Andrew Berry takes stand in his defense for December 2017 deaths of young daughters

‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

BCTF says class size, composition at the heart of the issue

Most Read