I grew up in the shadow of freedoms wings, without being aware it existed. The sound of gliders releasing above the house I grew up in, was the soundtrack of my youth. When I left home, my 1st place I lived in as an independent teen, was the house at the next corner down from van zant gliderport. I had taken a flight as a child with my parents as well.
It wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I became aware of freedoms wings existence, purely by accident. That accident being caused by a pothole on the next road over from the one I would take from the house I grew up in, to the airport I would later fly out of. That accident resulted in a spinal cord injury. And that later, when I would discover freedoms wings, was actually 2 weeks after getting out of the hospital following that accident.
I remember that day well, sitting at home (the house I grew up in) feeling this burden of all the things I was told I would never do again, when someone stumbled on an article about freedoms wings, and the fact it was operating out of the airport I grew up just miles from.
This was days before freedoms wings annual picnic, and my 1st ride in a glider.
I started lessons that week!
I continued my lessons until solo, only getting 2 solo flights in before no longer having reliable transportation to continue my lessons. However, my second solo flight I had a wonderful experience thermalling with 4 golden eagles, an experience I later relayed to a Seneca medicine woman mentor, who gave me the name soaring eagle.
Although those early years soaring were cut short, the experience changed my life from the 1st time I left the earth, and my wheelchair far behind It gave me the courage to push the limits of what I could do, spending months off he beaten path in the wilderness, wrestling my chair over boulders and downed trees.
I can even see how my freedoms wings experiences influenced me into a lifetime of volunteering and service to the community.
Now it has been way too many years and I have finally returned to fly again on the wings of freedom. something that has been a strong desire each and every year since my last flights so long ago.
I not only grew up very near the airport I fly from, but was also injured in the same area. Every flight I had would bring back memories, like swimming across the lake with a bee on my finger to save him, or the houses I lived in, the hills I sledded on as a kid, the streets I rode my bike on.. Every single flight was full of memories from the ground below.
But every single flight I took went right over where I was injured. Not once did I look down and think there is where i became disabled. Every memory from a lifetime came back while flying high above my childhood home.. The only thing that never once crossed my mind was "there is where I became disabled".
Out of all the Freedoms Wings members I probably m the only one who ever got to soar above the very spot that caused their disability.. And yet it never once even crossed my mind.
I had good times and bad times growing up in that area. On the ground it is easy to dwell on the bad times. From high above only the good times cross my mind.
Soaring has the power to make even the worse moments of your life disappear, and be forgotten.
I started flying long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It was in Poland in 1980. Before my 16 birthday I had my mandatory 3 parachute jumps and my first solo flight in 2 seats polish glider-Bocian. I continued my training and earned my silver badge but situation in my local club after government established military law in Poland to squash democratic movement, forced me to quit flying. In that time in my country training was free because flying clubs were financed by the military. Trainee was accepted only after rigoristic medical exams. As a young man I dreamed to be a fighter pilot but as a older, 19 years old I realized that I do not want to serve in a military which may be used against a democratic movement. Joining a military was a very unpopular among young people then.
I returned to flying in USA in 1995. I earned my single engine private license year later and instrument rating year after. In 1999 during my commercial, CFI and CFII (flight instructor and flight instructor-instrument) training I went to ski in NY state and I had accident and sustained spinal cord injury. Being paralyzed from the waist down I was driving and working already 2 months after my discharge from the hospital. Returning quickly to my daily duties helped me a lot in that most difficult time of my life, however I was a sure that my passion for aviation is over and that, I never return to be a pilot and all my training and ratings were wasted.
2 years later I received a brochure from Mont Sinai hospital with the story about Freedoms Wings International. I live in NY and I was very happy that FWI is close in PA. I decided to give them a call and scheduled my first introductory flight with Chris Bigalke. Soon after I started my training and continued throughout next 2 seasons a on weekly or biweekly basis. Thanks to commitment, time and devotion of my instructor-Gill Frost I earned my glider license. Before I earned my glider rating and encouraged by my progress I traveled to Los Angeles where 2 wheelchair pilots established a power plane training for people with disability-International Wheelchair Aviation. I wanted to see if I can fly power planes with a hand controls. Soon after and back in NY I purchased Piper Archer- 4 seats, single engine airplane, installed a hand control and continued my training. 6 years after my injury I recovered all my pilot ratings and even added one more-glider pilot rating.
I must say that joining Freedoms Wings International was the mile stone for me. It really changed my life. I understood that the fact that I am disabled person is not obstacle to pursuit my dreams. It takes maybe more time and energy but with proper planning, devotion almost any goal can be achieved.
I continued my training. I learned very exciting ridge flying with my instructors-Bruce Brown and Bob Cook. I participated in almost every FWI event, giving introductory flights to dozens of disable and able persons. With Bruce Brown I still hold (2016) NJ state altitude record in multi place glider category and with Bob Cook NJ state distans record in the same category.
Encouraged by Bruce Brown I participate in FAA Wings program which brings flying and knowledge skills to a higher level. I recommend this program to every pilot. It really makes flying safer.