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

Figures reveal spike in highway traffic jams between Abbotsford and Langley

Nearly one in 20 westbound vehicles between Abbotsford and Langley clocked at under 60 km/h

Taser takedown in Chilliwack complex after incident gets violent

Male suspect became agitated under questioning and repeatedly punched an officer

Harrison looks to test viability of solar power

Harrison has applied for a grant to see whether solar power is an option for its village buildings

Agassiz man pleads guilty in snake venom death of toddler

Plea comes more than five years after the incident in North Vancouver

Funding uncertain, but Agassiz’s Storytime in the Park will go on, organizer says

The literacy program takes place each summer in Agassiz, Harrison and Seabird Island

VIDEO: Agassiz remembers local officer at grave-marking ceremony

Montague White-Fraser had been buried in the Old Cemetery for 92 years without a headstone

Canadian high school science courses behind on climate change, says UBC study

Researchers found performance on key areas varies by province and territory

UPDATE: One dead after house fire in rural Maple Ridge

Dewdney Trunk Road closed, traffic being re-routed

Six inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

The 26th ceremony in Penticton welcomed powerful figures both from on and off the ice

Highway 1 closed near Revelstoke

No estimated time for opening

CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

Extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics to operate year-round

RCMP investigate two shootings in the Lower Mainland

Incidents happened in Surrey, with a victim being treated at Langley Memorial Hospital

Recall: Certain Pacific oysters may pose threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning

Consumers urged to either return affected packages or throw them out

Most Read