By Alina Kaur
A cold Siberian October. The last leaves are falling from the trees in a soothing silence.
Then you hear someone running through the grass, pushing a wheelchair in front of him. The footsteps come closer, the runner picks up speed and he seems close to taking off!
A deep breath and time seems to stop. There is absolute silence for a split second. Everyone raises their head and looks up as two paragliders soar into the air.
Every day people with disabilities face difficulties that make them feel depressed and isolated.
But Alexander Orlov, an experienced paraglider from Novosibirsk, remembers how one day a woman called him and said in a determined voice:
“Alexander! I would like to surprise my friend and give him a paraglider flight for his birthday.
“But there is one problem, he is confined to a wheelchair.”
Just because you can’t walk doesn’t mean you can’t fly.
Before tragedy struck him, Roman Solomatin led an active life. He skied, ran a successful business and dreamed of buying a yacht and traveling a lot in the future.
Four years ago, he had an accident, and his neck vertebrae were paralyzed after a failed water jump. Roman underwent complex surgery. After a time, he regained some movement in the upper part of his body, but he was still unable to walk.
A year after the accident, his wife divorced him saying: “You know I am a young and energetic woman. I am not ready to live with a man who is going to spend all his life in an armchair!”
Roman was left alone. He did the best he could to survive for two years. Then he met Lena, a support caregiver for disabled people. She became his inspiration after the tragedy.
After a while, Lena suggested they build a personal relationship together. Roman stubbornly refused, saying that he would be a burden for such a young and active woman. But over time, their relationship evolved.
Lena dedicated herself to getting Roman out of his depression and filling his life with vibrant experiences. Flying, she decided, was the way to show that there is nothing that one cannot achieve.
They need special equipment because Novosibirsk has no mountains.
Alexander is the paragliding instructor who agreed to help Lena turn her dream into reality and who took charge of Roman’s flight.
This had never been done in Russia. In the French movie “The Untouchables,” one of the heroes is confined to a wheelchair yet flies, nonetheless, on a paraglider.
But in the film they take off from a mountain. We don’t have mountains in Novosibirsk. That’s why Alexander flies using a winch, a tow and a rope — a completely different technology, which is more difficult.
But it is technically possible. Alexander has developed a special device to lift the wheelchair into the air.
On the day of his flight, Roman said:
“I feel that I started a new life after two years of lying in bed. Honestly, I started to cry in the air. It was windy and I pretended that my tears were due to the wind. Life! I felt real life there! I was afraid before the flight. But in the sky I wanted to shout, ‘Come on, add a whirl!'”
One woman compared her feelings to the moment she gave birth.
In early October this year in Novosibirsk, Alexander Orlov organized a mass paraglider flight for people with different types of disabilities, some visually impaired, some hard-of-hearing, people in wheelchairs and with cerebral palsy.
The participants were inspired and happy after experiencing flight. One woman compared the feeling to the moment she gave birth to her son.
The joy on the faces of these people and the gleam in their eyes capture the real meaning of the desire of Alexander Orlov and others like him, who yearn to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Taking off on a paraglider, they gain freedom. Like birds, they soar above the ground and its limitations.
Alina Kaur is a first-year student at Novosibirsk State University in southwestern Siberia, Russia, studying journalism. She enjoys traveling and communicating with others, and her favorite author is the Russian-American writer and journalist, Sergei Dovlatov. She dreams “to make this world a little bit better,” and after she finishes her studies, she would like to work in international journalism.