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Walking on Air Stories

Two Stories for the Price of One !

‘Call me Herbie’ were the words of introduction by Herbie Milton one of the volunteers of ‘Walking on Air’ for the disabled based at the Scottish Gliding Centre at Portmoak near Kinross. As soon as the words were said I had an immediate memory flashback to the 1970’s when my family went to a cinema in Glasgow and saw ‘The Love Bug’ which was the first of a series of films based on the extraordinary VW Beetle called ‘Herbie’.  Much as I enjoyed the film it was the documentary film about gliding which left its mark on me that night. I knew that someday I would like to be up on a glider even although I did not have a head for heights.

In fact the opportunity arose one winter’s day in the early 1980’s at an airfield near Arbroath and it was an occasion which could have put me off gliding for life. As an adult in the company of some young air cadets I was determined to fly even although I was really scared stiff.  I explained to the pilot that I did not have a head for heights but regardless he decided to do some steep manoeuvres. My fear was compounded by the fact that the glider did not have a canopy. Once on terra firma I welcomed my mug of hot coffee and ‘Mars’ bar to recover from the experience. I did not realise that the Mars bar was hard and as soon as I had taken a bite I broke my two upper front teeth. It was a day which made its impression in more ways than one!!  I decided that I would never again go up in a glider. However circumstances were to change my decision some twenty years later.

Shortly into the new millennium I was diagnosed as having a rare neurological condition with limited life expectancy. In the midst of all this I was inspired by Lindsay Cant whom I had known for some years when resident in Kinross. She is a remarkable young lady whose attitude to very serious health problems is quite humbling. As she had been talking about being up in the ‘Walking on air’ glider I felt encouraged to have one shot at it as I possibly would not be able to do it again. I was saying to myself, ‘If Lindsay can do it, so can I’.  When I arrived at S.G.U. the staff and volunteers so understood. Along with John Henry my pilot for the special day I was so grateful for the experience of soaring above Loch Leven and the nearby hills which were so familiar to me. It was a day to remember and cherish. And I thought to myself in a different spirit, ‘never again’ will I ever be able to glide. In fact my physiotherapist advised me not to continue due to the risk factors to my health. However once again, circumstances were to change in an extraordinary way to my wonderful surprise. I regard it is a miracle and that’s another story.

After several years my original diagnosis had to be revisited as a result of steady improvement in health. Consequently I was able to resume gliding in the summer of 2009 and have appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to be in the glider can quickly be adapted with hand controls. The team of pilots and helpers are so helpful and patient as they encourage people like me to develop confidence and learn new skills. Lindsay always talked about doing ‘loop the loop’ which I can assure you was never going to be on my agenda. Well I addressed that fear on a visit to Aviemore with some members of Forth and Tay Disabled Ramblers in May 2010. There was a space in our programme which allowed a fellow rambler called Maria and myself to visit Feshiebridge where the ‘Walking on Air’ glider was conveniently located at that time for an annual event. What a marvellous coincidence. It was a wonderful flight to be so near to the snow covered Cairngorms even in May. It was also an opportunity to experience the manoeuvre which I dreaded.  I took the plunge and asked Joe Fisher my pilot to do my first ‘loop the loop’. Lindsay was so surprised when I told her my story and to mark the occasion designed a special card which I cherish.

Maria Duncan, who also had the opportunity to fly at Feshiebridge, has encouraged a number of fellow disabled ramblers to participate in wheelchair curling at Kinross Wheelchair Curling Club and as a result we have become hooked on another sport for the disabled which is growing in membership throughout Scotland. In turn I have been encouraging Maria and others to consider gliding for the disabled as being part of their sports therapy development.

Yes, my story has been one of changes and it is great to have the opportunity to encourage others, as others have encouraged me. Maria’s story is wonderfully encouraging especially as her health has progressively deteriorated and there is no better person to tell it than Maria herself.

I joined a group called Forth and Tay Disabled Ramblers approximately4 years ago when I discovered that, due to illness, I was no longer able to walk any great distance.    I so thoroughly enjoyed the experience of freedom in the countryside that I couldn’t wait to go out again and again.  I have never looked back – have been on countless rambles, been on a rambling holiday, made so many new friends and found out about things like the Seagull Trust,( a charity which runs canal barge trips for the disabled).  F&TDR organise rambles from April to October doing a minimum number of 10 rambles throughout the season (ably assisted by a wonderful group of able bodied volunteers). F&TDR is a charity which assists disabled members to access the countryside.   We recently recruited a new rambler – the chairperson of Kinross Wheelchair Curling Club
A few years later I spotted an article advertising a come and try event at Kinross for Wheelchair Curlers.   Since I had, by that time, progressed (or should it be regressed) to using a wheelchair on a regular basis, I decided to give it a go. I have thoroughly enjoyed this over the last few years (with the help of a band of very talented volunteers) and encouraged members of F&TDR to come along too – there are now five Ramblers who are members of Kinross Wheelchair Curling Club.   
Last year on a ramble I was given a leaflet about Walking on Air, Gliding for the Disabled.   I considered it, made up my mind it was something I wanted to do, then filed it at the back of my mind.  However, my daughter mentioned it later last year, asking if I was going to do it and would I like that as part of my Christmas.  I immediately said yes, so she and her partner contact her brother and his wife and they all agreed to give me that as part of my Christmas present.  Wonderful!  I decided that since it cost £40 - £50 for my first flight and three months trial membership it would be wise to wait for better weather.  I managed to wait until 4 days after my 62nd birthday before taking to the skies over the Scottish Gliding Union’s Airfield at Portmoak, where I had the time of my life.  The gliding club includes a fantastic group of volunteers who give up their time to share their love of flying.  They have a glider called “Walking on Air” which is fitted with hand controls and other adaptations with the needs of disabled in mind.  On the big day of my flight a fellow rambler/curler Leslie came along to take some photographs and with my son boosting my moral and my friend trying to convince me I was mad, I took to the air – IT WAS FANTASTIC – and I have booked to go back again, and again, and again……..  Unfortunately, my daughter and partner could not be there as they live in England, but she was so pleased to see the photographs and to hear all about it.
I decided to do this as a sponsorship for the benefit of F&TDR and have raised approximately £350 – for which I would like to thank everyone concerned.
 What next – goodness knows – time will tell, but I have heard something about ski-ing

Article for the press re visit to Gruyere 

‘Walking on Air’ is a charity dedicated to making gliding available to the disabled. Based at the Scottish Gliding Centre, Portmoak Airfield near Kinross, Walking on Air provides an opportunity for people who are disabled, as a result of accidents or illness, not only to have an ‘experience ‘ of gliding  but to fly on the same footing as able bodied pilots. A team of pilots and volunteers are dedicated to train and encourage disabled pilots to learn the skills of gliding and for some to fly solo.

Two novice pilots from the club, Maria Duncan from Glenrothes  and Leslie Barr from Kelty, are travelling to Switzerland from 17th to 24th July to participate in an international flying event called ‘Handiflight International Aviation Meet’ near Gruyere which is renowned for its superb cheese. They will be accompanied by the chairman of Walking on Air Steve Derwin who is a very experienced pilot instructor. In fact Steve took up gliding and flying after he became disabled as a result of serious spinal injuries following a road accident.

The week long event in Switzerland was started in 2007 by Sarah Ramseier and her father Daniel whose aim was to support and promote the development of aviation for the disabled in the spectacular setting of the lower Alps and stunning scenery of the nearby mountains. This will be the fourth year of an event which is now both prestigious and international. Representatives are invited from disabled flying clubs around Europe and now worldwide. Each day there will be the wonderful opportunity to participate in flying events, some power and some free flight. Weather permitting it all adds up to and exciting occasion. In the short life of Handiflight, Walking on Air is proud to send two of its members Leslie and Maria who are both excited and honoured to represent their club, reach for the sky and enjoy a unique adventure.

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