Project Airtime is free for all
A former soldier who was paralyzed by a skydiving accident last year is one of a handful of people who have learned to paraglide on their own with Project Airtime.
Before becoming familiar with the Utah-based adaptive paragliding program, Brendan Doyle spent nearly nine years in the US military.
In January 2020, he was paralyzed from the waist down following a landing accident. Seven months later, he began flying with Chris Santacroce and his team, who have helped many individuals reach new heights over the past six years.
The nonprofit takes away for free to individuals with special needs, people with brain and spinal cord injuries or other illnesses, their caregivers, the elderly, and veterans.
Santacroce told Granthshala News they are looking for someone who just “needs a boost” or is ready to “rose to the occasion.”
Early in his journey with the nonprofit, Doyle began flying together, as do most Project Airtime participants. But Doyle didn’t want to just sit along for the ride. He wanted more.
“When I got injured, a lot of my freedom was taken away from me. Being able to do the things I love about myself is better than just being along for the ride,” Doyle told Granthshala News.
“Typically, a pilot and passenger take off and fly for about 20 to 30 minutes,” Santacroce said, adding that “some people are quite happy to go for 15 minutes.”
He also had a handful of participants – like Doyle – who have been flying solo over the years.
Santacros created the program six years ago, but he has been a full-time paragliding professional for nearly three decades. For 13 years, he was also a Red Bull athlete, where he performed free-flying sports.
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More than 10 years ago, Santacros injured his spinal cord while attempting one of his moves, leaving him in a wheelchair for a couple of weeks.
“I’ve always had this trick, where you drag your wing to the ground and then straighten up and land,” he said. “And one day I was just flying [and] I got it wrong.”
Spending time in a wheelchair changed his outlook on life.
In the light of getting a “second chance”, he recalled asking himself a very important question: “What should I do with my life?”
“The answer was quite clear,” he said.
When Santacros isn’t running Super Fly Paragliding, which offers equipment sales, paragliding lessons, tours and clinics, he dedicates his time to Project Airtime, reminding them that no matter what, they’re still “a revolutionary experience.”
Santacroce said Project Airtime does about 80 flights a year at its location in Salt Lake City, Utah, 40 of which are for the individuals signing up and the other 40 for their caregivers.
He also has chairs across the country in Seattle; Bend, Oregon; and Austin, Texas.
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Santacroce says it’s the best job he’s ever done. However, for their participants, it means infinitely more.
“They just want freedom and they want to be able to push this stuff and not do harm,” Santacroce said.
And when they’re in the air, “they’re at zero damage compared to the next guy,” he said.
In fact, it can be a liberating experience even for those who spend most of their time in a wheelchair.
“They have to at least leave that chair behind. And that doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “So they find themselves quite comfortable and they find themselves vulnerable to a new experience.”
For many people, “they completely forget their disability,” he said.