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

Alleged Abbotsford crime boss loses bid for jail release while awaiting extradition hearing

Jazzy Sran is accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into Canada from the U.S.

Family of Chilliwack pilot killed in Honduras crash creates memorial scholarship fund

Parents, sister of Patrick Forseth fundraising to pay to send aspiring pilots to flight school

RCMP use helicopter and police dog to search for suspect on Sts’ailes First Nation

Man known to police fled an allegedly stolen vehicle and firearm on the reserve north of Chilliwack

Public hearing Monday for huge development near downtown

A 599-unit development has been proposed for a large site just north of the historic downtown

Golf tournament raises $74,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters

Money goes toward mentorship programs for 500 Fraser Valley children

Feds lowered poverty line, reducing the number of seniors in need: documents

Liberals introduced a poverty line that was below the prior low-income cutoff

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs have been sold

Victoria company has purchased BCHL team, but will keep it in Port Alberni

“Does Kirby care?” B.C. First Nation’s group using geo-targeted ads in Houston, Texas for justice

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council has called out Kirby Corporation for the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill

Trudeau announces $79M investment for 118 more public transit buses across B.C.

Contributions from municipal to federal level to fund more buses in a bid to cut commutes

B.C. woman wins record $2.1 million on casino slot machine

‘That night was so surreal … I wasn’t able to sleep or eat for the first two days,’ she said

After B.C. dad’s death, Technical Safety BC wants changes to trampoline park rules

Jay Greenwood, 46, did ‘a series of acrobatic manoeuvres prior to a fall that caused serious injury and cardiac arrest’

Cars keyed on BC Ferries after alarms bother dog on board

Delta police arrested one passenger on suspicion of mischief

$900M settlement reached in class action on sexual misconduct in Canadian military

After facing criticism, the government moved to begin settlement proceedings in early 2018

Tax take stays ahead of increased B.C. government spending

Tax revenue $2.1 billion higher than budget in 2018-19

Most Read