26 February 2019
Written by: Hannah Shelmerdine
Imagine being sat in a wheelchair, day in, day out. Rigid, your body stiff and fixed.
This is exactly how Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy has left me. I am in constant pain. My muscles are constantly contracting. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? On top of this, I have a severe visual impairment.
I’ve sat in my wheelchair on many occasions bored, in pain, my body feeling so sore. I’ve often daydreamed about being free of my wheelchair, free of my disability and all the associated restrictions. I’ve dreamed of flying, floating up, leaving my wheelchair and flying through the air. I wondered, is it possible? Then came iFLY Manchester.
I contacted iFLY to see what the feasibility was of me participating in a flying experience, not expecting that they’d be able to accommodate me; someone with such a profound and complex physical disability. How wrong could I have been? IFLY simply said, ‘Not a problem at all Hannah, come along!’ Surprised was an understatement.
The day arrived I was super excited, although a little apprehensive, to say the least. I chatted with the instructor prior to my flight. We discussed how I would enter the tunnel; everyone thought it would work best to have two instructors in the tunnel with me initially, just until we could establish how my body would position once in the tunnel, and to ensure my comfort and safety.
Before I knew it the two instructors led me into the tunnel, and I was sucked in by a huge gust of wind. Up, up and away, hurray! I was flying at last! It was effortless, the feeling of weightlessness was wonderful.
My body is usually always resting up against something, a wheelchair, a bed etc. Under normal circumstances, I have very little free independent movement. The movement that I do have can be involuntary and uncoordinated.
The resistance of the wind in the tunnel proved very good for improving my muscle strength. My body, as if by magic, went from being extremely bent to the flattest and most extended it’s been in a long time. As my vision is impaired, my other senses are heightened to compensate so I especially enjoyed the sensation of the wind blowing on me.
Spinning round and round, faster and faster, higher and higher. It was a real adrenaline rush! Interestingly on completion of the skydive, my body was the most relaxed and pain free, it has been in a long time.
The whole of the iFLY team provided an outstanding service from start to finish. The instructors were very professional, and it was such a refreshing change that they were not at all fazed by my disability; I was just one of the group. They made adaptations to enable me to participate in the sport of indoor skydiving. Not only were they highly trained and skilled, their awareness of disability equality was excellent. There was no “special treatment” for me, I was treated exactly the same as all the other skydivers in my group even while my additional requirements were taken into consideration. I was no different to anyone else. They saw me, Hannah, irrespective of my wheelchair or my disability.
iFLY Manchester fulfilled what it truly means to be totally inclusive and achieve equality for those with disabilities.