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Paragliders with disabilities experience heightened sense of freedom, adventure

David Hanning describes flying paragliders as a blissful, Zen-like experience.

David wants to share the joy of the recreational aerial adventure sport with everyone who comes to his Flying Camp in Dunlap, Tennessee.

“It’s like surfing sometimes,” the Flying Camp owner said. Paragliders make circles and climb the air like birds. “It’s very beautiful,” he said, adding that it’s also “like sailing in the sky.” He said that a lot of people become overcome with joy when they are flying in the open air. David, who has 25 years of experience as a paraglider, sees a lot of happiness at 2,000 feet in the air.

In addition to providing training for solo paraglider flights, David’s business also offers tandem paraglider flights that allow people with mobility impairments to experience paragliding for the first time while a certified paragliding pilot is with them. David has piloted tandem paragliding flights for people with paraplegia and quadriplegia.

“They express that it’s great not being held down by any restrictions,” he said of some first-time paragliding passengers with paraplegia. It’s empowering and it gives them new views and a new perspective on life as well. (Side note/fun fact: I learned that David, who has traveled all over the world paragliding, is originally from the Midwest. David grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my hometown.)

David also supports Project Airtime. Project Airtime is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Utah that helps cover the cost of paragliding flights and training for people with cognitive and physical disabilities. “It’s an excellent program.” Thanks to Project Airtime, many people, including injured veterans and elderly adventurers with limited mobility, have had the opportunity to experience paragliding. When David meets someone and he thinks that they would be a good candidate for a Project Airtime grant, he gladly refers them. David is friends with Chris Santacroce, the founder of Project Airtime. Chris miraculously made a full recovery from a spinal cord injury. However, he remembered what it was like when he had to use a wheelchair. After Chris’ recovery, he made it his mission to help provide hope and paragliding adventures for people with disabilities. I know what it’s like to work for a nonprofit that provides hope and life-changing opportunities. At the STAR Center, our mission is “to help any person with any disability realize their potential.” (I first heard about Project Airtime after my husband and I saw Chris’ story featured on the show, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. Ironically, we saw the show several hours after adventurously opting for a simulated paragliding experience on the Sky Fly: Soar America flying theatre ride at The Island in Pigeon Forge.)

This year, David has seen people of all ability levels open to traveling for adventurous excursions. He said that business has stayed steady even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the middle of one tandem paragliding flight with a 12-year-old adventurer, David said the boy summed up how awesome paragliding is when he said, “This is like a chairlift that you can take anywhere.”

For more information about the Flying Camp in Dunlap Tennessee, call (423) 800-2228 or email info@tnfly.com.

Photos courtesy of Flying Camp


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