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Home > MSAA Publications > The Motivator > The Motivator: Summer 2007 > Stories to Inspire
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Up, Up and Away!

Written by Judy Heath

Hot Air Ballon Photo

I had always dreamed of taking a hot-air balloon ride... someday. With the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) several years ago, I was forced to either change how I achieved my dreams, or stop dreaming. I chose the former. And since hot-air ballooning has always been romantically appealing to me, it was a dream I planned to keep.

Sometimes, people ask if I feel limited as a wheelchair user. Absolutely... not! Thanks to a sense of adventure and daring ideas, this wheelchair user challenges the norm. As a person with MS, take it from someone who has continued to live an active lifestyle with sometimes creative and perhaps unconventional adaptations. I feel challenged to try to keep my active lifestyle, but it does require some minor changes to the how, when, and where I can do things. A simple matter of preparedness and a little double-checking can make the difference between fun and frustration.

Despite any limitations, I learned on Mother's Day that my dream might soon become a reality. Upon opening a Mother's Day card, I had a surprise I could never have expected: a gift certificate informing me of an appointment for the launch of a lifetime. My adult children surprised me with the trip of my dreams – a ride in a hot-air balloon!

Photo of Judy & her family A Mother's Day gift for Judy Heath began her hot-air balloon adventure. In this photo, Judy is pictured with her four children (from left to right) Tamara Meckel, Peter Craig, Aaron Craig, and Lance Craig.

My hot-air balloon adventure was set to begin early one morning in summer. While it was still dark outside, I received a wake-up call from a friend, and I was soon ready to embark on a new adventure. By the time we arrived at the launch site, daylight was increasing and the winds and weather seemed perfect. My ballooning adventure began with meeting the pilot and crew.

Shivering in anticipation, I watched my dream take shape as the crew began inflating the immense balloon. I observed intently as the assembling was systematically carried out. Soon the balloon was ready for the flight. It was almost surreal in the dusky quietness of the morning with only the sounds of propane burners in the air. About six other balloons were being prepared for flight that morning too.

As the heated air filled the balloon, it slowly lifted from the ground. Soon all was ready for liftoff; I just needed to get into the gondola (basket). With my arms around the shoulders of the assistants, I was lifted up, over, and into the basket. Now my anticipation knew no limits. As the balloon struggled to take flight, the ropes were untied and suddenly we were headed skyward!

What an awesome sensation it was to feel myself being lifted away from the ground in a silent whisper. I had no real sense of motion; just the visual changes in the landscape told me we were airborne. It was such a gentle liftoff. I don't know what I was expecting. I felt completely secure, as I leaned against the wicker basket, watching the earth fall away.

As we were traveling with the wind, I felt no rush of air, in spite of the coolness of the morning. Once up and away, we floated silently over farmland. I heard the slam of the porch door as the farmer headed out to his morning chores. I also heard the morning sounds of barking dogs and voices of people talking as they carried on their conversations, unaware of the balloon and its passengers overhead.

I felt no movement as I drifted with the wind. All was silent except for the occasional noise of the burner. How small everything appears from your vantage point up among the clouds! Miniature roadways carry tiny cars. The different hues of green and gold show you waterways and wetlands. The balloon sailed quietly off in the direction of a farm I had passed earlier that morning on my pre-flight drive to the launching area.

Silently we floated over the lush spring-green fields of Oregon's Willamette Valley. I was breathless as the morning sunrise glowed into the new day. It was all so spectacular... the balloon ride, the sunrise, and the opportunity to fulfill my life-long dream. Gently we glided over the roads, now busy with traffic.

I had a very definite sense of the uniqueness of this experience. This was a feeling I would treasure and hold tight in my heart, especially on the tougher days when the world isn't so bright and beautiful. Reluctantly, I watched as the landing site came into view. My adventure was quickly ending, but I knew the experiences I had on this trip would be with me forever.

As the air was slowly let out of the balloon, the basket gently bumped to the ground. Suddenly, eager helping hands were guiding the balloon to its resting stop while my heart was still soaring above the treetops. Following the touchdown and the stowing of the balloon, we celebrated in the traditional way – including a toast with sparking cider and a delicious picnic lunch.

Dreams do come true. This well-planned adventure has been one of the most memorable challenges I have ever accomplished!

About Hot Air Ballooning

Photo of several hot air balloons

The first hot-air balloon flight took place in Paris more than 200 years ago. The craft was made of paper and silk, with two noblemen from the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette piloting the balloon on its 22-minute flight. The pilots were offered champagne to celebrate their first flight, and this tradition is carried on to this day.

If you are interested in hot-air ballooning and you have a disability, first check with your physician to make sure that taking a ride would not pose any health issues. With your doctor's approval, contact the individuals who manage or own a hot-air balloon business in your area, to discuss your special needs. Be honest with yourself regarding your limitations and be sure to request assistance wherever needed. In my adventure, I discovered that people are always willing to help if you are willing to ask. Once on a flight, provided you are having no problems, assuring others that you are okay will help your companions to relax and enjoy themselves as well.

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 10:35