BASE Jumping In A Wheelchair: Paraplegic Athlete Strives for Another World Record
Actually, it took this athlete less than a year to get back to his sport after the accident, proving you can\'t keep a determined dreamer grounded. Even when you take away his ability to walk.
Not that he needs to walk. Lonnie Bissonnette flies.
"It was a dream to fly from my earliest years that I can remember," he said. "Once I heard an advertisement on the radio, I went the next weekend."
And that\'s all it took to spark one of the world\'s most prolific thrill-seekers to start skydiving. His love for flight led him to delve further, into the daring sport of BASE jumping.
"The feeling is of complete freedom! Like stepping out into nothingness!"
But chasing any dream comes with risk. In 2004, with 1,100 BASE jumps under his belt, Lonnie was attempting a trick jump. His foot got tangled in his chute. It didn\'t fully open, and he crashed into the river below.
Anyone with a taste for flight would be crushed to know they could never jump again. But hearing that news from the doctors didn\'t crush Lonnie. He knew what he could \'never\' do: he could never "never jump again."
"Honestly, I never had any doubt that I would jump again," he said. "Right from the beginning, I said I would!"
Not everyone was so sure. He said one of his biggest challenges was the apprehension of people he needed help from to achieve his goal. But his determination brought others on board.
"For me," he said. "I felt that I had to do at least one more jump after my accident to prove to myself I didn\'t quit, that the sport didn\'t beat me."
Now BASE jumping for 19 years (skydiving for 23), Lonnie has become the only paraplegic BASE jumper to have parachuted from all 4 BASE objects: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges), and earth.
But he knows he can still accomplish more. So now, he\'s got a new goal.
He plans to jump from all 4 objects with the wheelchair. He has custom modified it to suit his passions.
"I had larger front wheels engineered for the chair for the rough terrain that\'s in the landing area," Lonnie said. "Each jump, I improve on the last, and learn more stuff for the next one."
During Bridge Day 2013, he tested the newest set of modifications by leaping from the New River Gorge Bridge, and he stuck the landing along the riverbank below.
"It worked as planned for the rough terrain," he said. "However, the modification is now too front heavy, so I\'m back to the drawing board for more improvements."
That landing checked of his bridge object, putting him halfway to his goal. By next Bridge Day, he hopes to have the new record to his name.
"I love (Bridge Day) as a whole!" he said. "For me, what keeps me coming back is the friends first, the scenery, the hospitality of the locals, and of course the jumps."
Those friendships he holds dear made his leap this year all the more important to him.
"My jump was dedicated to 2 friends who passed away this year, and we jumped with some of their ashes," he said. "It will be forever in my mind how special that jump was to me and to them."
So it was a memorable 17th Bridge Day for Lonnie. Each year, even among a group of some of the world\'s most daring, Lonnie stands out as an example of courage. And he\'s always striving to go further.
Bridge Day 2014 is already on his calendar. He\'s sure to have a new feat to tackle by then.