Back in April, iFly of Tampa hosted the monthly All Abilities Night indoor skydiving event.
Jon Dixon, iFly Operations Manager, encourages children of all abilities to participate.
“This is where we invite guests that have physical or cognitive challenges. Each of our guests will have two flight minutes. That’s the equivalent of two skydives,” Dixon said. Ten people signed up for the indoor skydive at iFly. Indoor skydiving is made possible by a vertical wind tunnel, which channels air through a vertical column. The vertical orientation allows gravity to be counteracted by drag rather than lift, which is experienced by a skydiver at terminal velocity.
During indoor skydiving, the body floats in midair in the tunnel, which replicates the physics of body flight felt during a traditional outdoor freefall. According to iFly’s website, “All Abilities Night is a unique event that makes the dream of flight a reality for those in the special needs community. This program has been custom designed for those with physical and cognitive challenges to create an environment of support and inclusion, while focusing on making what seems impossible, possible,” said Ken Duldulao, who was involved in an accident that left him paralyzed 17 years ago.
“It’s on the bucket list. What’s the saying? Live life brave or die a coward. I figure, give it a shot.”
“You can’t breathe. You’re like ‘Oh my God, get me out of here.’ You look down, it’s like ‘Whoa!’” Ken Duldulao said. Gilbert Acevedo attended with his son. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s my baby, and he can do anything any other child can do!’ As parents, we try to do, even with our son, try to normalize everything that we do with him because he could say, ‘Daddy, I want to do this versus Chris. Do you want to do this?’ He’ll ask rather than me asking him. Activities like this, I think, increases self-confidence and self-esteem, so he’s able to do more stuff on his own,” Acevedo said.
Derek Felix, who was 16 years when he sustained a football injury that left him in a wheelchair, also participated in the event. “We go over all of the medical concerns that could arise, but once everything is all set, all the waivers are all signed, they’re all about it and we make it happen, and it’s some of the most powerful stuff you’ll see,” said Drew Hensen, an iFly flight instructor. Hensen assisted Felix into the wind tunnel, where another flight instructor guided the team into the air. “I was just completely, just in the air. I don’t know how to explain it. I never thought I would be able to do something like that.”
“I knew things like this were around but I didn’t think it was possible for someone like me to do it,” said Felix.
Similar events are held for people facing physical challenges around the country. At an iFly All Abilities Night event in Naperville, Illinois, Nick Pagonis, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, had the chance to fly. Nick was there with his parents, Ted and Diane Pagonis. “Nick would try skydiving, and this is the closest we’ll let him get to that. He loves sports and has been wanting to try this for years,” his mother said. But we didn’t know if there was a facility like this with people trained to work with those with special needs.”
“It’s so nice that we can sit here and see how well the instructors handle people with disabilities.”
“This is a new sensation for him. Nick loves water and the feeling you get when you’re swimming, so this is a little like that. I would tell other parents that you don’t need to limit your child with what kinds of experiences he wants to do,” his father said.