I am currently a 3rd year Masters student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. My schedule is hectic, and I rarely have time to do some of the things I love most – mountain bike, snowboard, skydive, paraglide.. Adventure sports are my thing, but air sports especially. I was born to fly. This passion has taken me a decade to develop, and is nowhere near done. I began hang gliding in 9th grade, on my 16th birthday I went up in a hot air balloon, freshman year of college I started skydiving lessons, becoming certified to jump alone, but two years ago was my last jump, due to the high costs. A year or so after starting skydiving, I took up paragliding. I have only had a few lessons but this is the one I want to stick with. I hope to make it out to Morningside at least once this summer, and become serious about it next summer, when I graduate from McGill. My history with flying is full of inner battles, confidence issues, and self doubt. But this has perhaps made my experiences mean so much more to me. In 10th grade, I wrote a story for English class about my first real flight. It might be a bit long, but this is what I’d like to share with you.
On July 14, 2002, my feet were 10 feet above the ground and the wind was whipping through my hair. My heart was racing and my eyes ablaze. I was flying – for the first time. I pushed the base tube out to maintain my height. Then, slowly, I leveled off, flared hard, and landed. It was over.
That moment could possibly have been the best moment of my life. At that time, I was 15 years old and hooked into my Falcon 740 hang glider in Charleston, NH. The glider was made of a mostly white Dacron sail with a red leading edge and it felt like butter in my hands. My gear consisted of a red helmet (much too big for me) and a yellow harness.
Looking down from my position on the hill (a little below halfway) I saw the bull’s eye at the bottom. I moved my gaze to focus on a telephone pole. Focusing on something is essential in order to go in a straight line. Hearing the, “All clear!” I started to walk, jog, and then run. Soon I was moonwalking and my instructor was yelling at me to “Push out! Push out!” As instructed, I pushed out and immediately felt my feet leave the ground. I started to level off but was yelled at again. Pushing out some more, I found myself even higher – about 10 feet off the ground. This moment seemed to last a lifetime.
While in the air, my mind raced over my childhood experiences and dreams. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to fly, to be counted among the birds. Coming back to reality, I realized I must push out. I did so and drifted back into a state of reminiscence. I recalled a time when I was about 8 years old. One morning, after I had my dad’s French toast with extra syrup (mmmmm!), I quickly ran upstairs and grabbed all the computer paper I could carry. I brought it downstairs with scissors and tape and sat down by the table where my parents were still finishing their breakfast. I didn’t waste any time and went straight to work cutting and taping, cutting and taping. After about an hour, I had two genuine wings. I cut and taped some more in order to fasten loops where I could put my arms. Ten minutes later I was ready to go. Sure they were a little flimsy, but I was positive they would work. I took them outside and put them on. Before my first flight I decided to ask my dad if he thought they would work too – apparently he did not, and his lack of confidence really shocked me. I soon recovered and was flapping as best I could. I ended up running to the end of a slight hill. Upon not flying, I brushed it off as another knot in my plan and went inside to think bigger.
Snapping back to reality yet again, I was much lower. At this point, I flared hard and gently landed. My instructor thoroughly congratulated me and told me he loved that smile. I felt very proud of myself! Just the day before I had been having a really bad day – my glider even crashed nose down once.
It seemed like all those previous practices had really paid off. That moment I knew that if I worked hard at something and stuck to it, I would eventually succeed and get what I wanted. I learned some things will come naturally (and those things we must appreciate) but mostly we will have to work for them. It will probably be hard and frustrating but if we are patient, responsible, and determined, the rewards are well worth it.
Though, as I was pushing the glider up the hill again, I wasn’t sure. What if I screwed up next time? Would my instructor be mad? Would he yell at me? My confidence had just been swallowed by a black hole. It was the beginning of the day and I was already getting scared, not of the heights, but of failure. I was about halfway to my spot on the hill now. I had plenty of time to contemplate all the things that could go wrong, all the horrible comments my instructor could make. Maybe I should’ve just quit right there. Three-fourths the way there. What if I didn’t live up to what my family and instructors expected of me? Would they be disappointed in me? What if I didn’t live up to what I expected of me? I was at my spot.
This would answer all those questions. I hooked my carabineer into the glider and ran through a hang check. I stood up and placed a grapevine grip around the control bars. I adjusted the glider to fit comfortably on my shoulders. Another five seconds passed and the “All clear!” was shouted. I began to walk, jog, and then run. In a few moments, I was pushing out again. I started moonwalking and before I knew it, my feet were off the ground again. This time I wasn’t reminiscing though. I was just happy (and relieved) to be in the air again, where I belonged.
I will never forget that hard work pays off.