7. Student Stories
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Some inspiring memories from this past year....
We had three students in their 70's (all from different areas of the country, all at different levels of skill, and coincidentally flying on the same day this past Summer) grace us with the broadest most infectious smiles after each flight. Gary landed right near the cone and simply laughed as the other pilots, many at least half his age, gave him congratulations. John had the longest flight of the day, even flying further than Mark Telep "That Speck" on an XC flight from Chelan (an unforgettable moment of Mark bowing down deeply in respect to John). Joe spent the early morning hours knocking large, truck pitching rocks off of our access road and, for even more exercise, then carried his glider pack to the flying area. They all three fly in perfect form, they do their homework, and they have a deep love for paragliding. All three of these gentleman shared stories that kept us mesmerized. Stories ranging from one being a smokejumper in the 1940's to another being an Air Force Fighter Pilot/Instructor to another being an intermediate hang glider pilot. The entire class was beaming, excited and energized - these guys were the REAL thing. We younger folks found ourselves humbled. The unasked question, which would be impossible to answer, was whether or not any of us would be as "capable" when we, hopefully, found ourselves their age. Some may have wondered how they could be as talented at their own current age!
How easily they have become solid pilots. Gary showed up his 2nd day of class with all of his week's worth of homework finished and a complete weather briefing, which sure "wide-eyed" the other, and younger, students. Gary's smile was continuous as we suffered through difficult training weather, he simply relaxed by telling stories, playing with the kitties and reviewing his lessons - and in the end he completed his Novice course with ease. He inspired the other students to respect the weather and to appreciate our fortune when it blossomed into a flyable day.
John hadn't flown since his 3 weeks in Flagstaff 6 months earlier. John also showed up each day with a complete weather briefing and racked up more XC miles in that clinic than any of the other, and younger, students. John was proud of meeting his goals - he got high, stayed high and flew far. John wasn't afraid to pursue every little detail, often with questions he thought were "nit-picky", because he was determined to fully understand what we instructors could share. He inspired others to be patient with their timing on launch, making the most of the thermals and then gliding thoughtfully.
Joe has been flying the longest of the 3, but knew he was behind the curve with currency this Summer, so he asked for help without any ego-related concerns. He simply said that he wouldn't want to burden Susan, his wife, with an injury from an unnecessary accident. Within a few lessons Joe proceeded to make the flights, once again, without instructor aid. Joe flies so smoothly you'd swear he was a seasoned pilot. Turns that are graceful, landing approaches that are perfect and style that many a young person would love to have.
We spoke with a talented XC pilot in Chelan who told of a an experience in Europe a month earlier. He had run into an American woman, probably in her late 40's, who pretty much out flew everyone, everywhere she traveled. He told of her careful analysis of the conditions, timing on launch and then reasons for continually modifying her flight plans, when necessary. He was thrilled with her infectious enthusiasm for flying. We knew who he was describing and we weren't surprised. What he may not of known was how hard this pilot has worked to develop her competence. She has taken clinics in everything from many different instructors, and generally two or three times. Aviation, both academically and athletically, were tough for her. Unlike our threesome mentioned above who arrived at their first class with a "sense" of aviation, she had had no previous experience that was remotely similar. Although she is well-coordinated, her knees were shot which made her very cautious. Her passionate love of flight gave her the determination and energy to overcome any obstacle. When we caught up with her this Fall she was overflowing with happy stories of her flying trip to Europe, she was taking full advantage of having finally moved her last kid out of the house.
There are so many stories and so little room to print them. The themes are similar, maybe yours is also. Flight offers our reality the stuff dreams are made from. We are so very lucky to live in these technological times, that there's the USHGA to offer guidance and structure to our sites and training, and that we have the time and means to pursue the sport. The key thing that's prevalent in all 4 of the folks mentioned above is how appreciative (cherish, prize, treasure, value - having a high regard based on critical assessment and judgment) they are of everything. Appreciation gives respect which leads to success and all the more happiness.