Every day, the list of things you can’t do in a wheelchair gets shorter and shorter. Here’s the latest!
Paragliding is a popular sport, enjoyed the world over by thrill-seekers who get a rush from the feeling of unmechanized flight, and who can blame them? The feeling of freedom while soaring through the air must be unparalleled in its glory. A popular destination for this sport is the European Alps trail from Austria to Monaco. The journey is 620 miles, and it involves ground travel between paragliding excursions. A five-man team recently undertook this expedition, and they’ll make history for their efforts.
One of the team members, Vincent Delepeleire, will make this rugged journey using a handcycle.
In 2011 Delepeleire, now 24, experienced a work accident that left him a paraplegic without the use of his legs. He had been paragliding with his team, all of whom grew up together in France, since 2009 and loved the sport. To maintain his ability to participate and to help others in similar situations, the group founded a non-profit organization called In Cloud.
In Cloud is dedicated to helping people with disabilities gain access to technology for adaptive sports adventures, and the European Alps trip represents its first serious effort. The trail is roughly the same as the Red Bull X-Alps race involving paragliding and hiking the length of the Alps.
The weather will present the biggest potential hurdle to the group. “Alpine weather conditions can be unpredictable,” says Delepeleire. “If it isn’t safe to launch from a given site, we’ll start handcycling to the next.”
This seems simple, but the reality is that it could result in a trip of up to 60 miles on a handcycle, which is not an easy task. However, Delepeleire will have unusual support—every one of his teammates has resolved to use a handcycle as well, believing that if one of them has to do it, they all should.
The paragliding part of the trip across these magnificent mountains remains easy for Delepeleire, though he now has to use a special paragliding wing attached to his wheelchair. “You always control your wing with your arms,” he says. “Your legs don’t matter.”
The big difference is that he now needs a few friends to launch him. One serves to help the wing catch the wind while one on each side of the chair helps guide it to launch. So far, there have been no incidents using this procedure, and the off-road wheels on his chair allow for smooth landings. If successful, their accomplishment will mark the first human-powered paragliding crossing of the European Alps by a disabled person.
The team is scheduled to arrive at their destination in Monaco in August, when they will refocus In Cloud’s sites towards helping others get into adaptive sports.
“This is just the beginning,” Delepeleire says.
Though the video below is in French, the breathtaking scenery and a young man in a wheelchair soaring through the sky tell the story beautifully. If you had an opportunity to paraglide in your wheelchair, where would you choose to experience that adventure?