iFLY hosts “All Abilities Night” for disabled athletes and veterans

By Ariel Graham | DFW Newsflash | January 2017

Athletes, military personnel and civilians took to the skies at All Abilities Night held at iFLY Fort Worth on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

iFLY, an indoor skydiving facility, hosted athletes from The Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF), a Dallas-based organization that helps patients with severe injuries train to become athletes and to become active again. Over a dozen military veterans and civilians with amputations and other disabilities suited up, stepped into a giant wind tunnel, and with the help of the iFLY instructors, soared into the air.

iFLY Fort Worth opened its doors on Oct. 7. General manager Jeremy Little said the company wanted to show these athletes that anyone can fly, regardless of disability.

“We were able to offer them an opportunity to come out and learn that the sky is everybody’s world,” Little said. “There are truly no limits to anybody. We can fly everybody from ages 3 to 103.”

Little added that Fort Worth was also the first stop on ATF’s “Texas Tour.” ATF took athletes to iFLY locations in Austin and San Antonio over the next few days.

Trevor Gibbs is the operations manager of iFLY in Loudoun, Virginia and was one of the instructors for the evening. He said All Abilities Night serves two purposes: to train the iFLY staff on how to help flyers with disabilities, and to show those flyers that they do not have to be limited by their disabilities.

“It’s an amazing night to showcase what it is that we do, inviting literally anyone in and showing them that you may feel grounded in your wheelchair, but when you’re up and flying, you’re the same as everybody else,” Gibbs said.

iFLY also welcomed Alistair Hodgson as their special guest for the evening. Hodgson lost both his legs while serving as a British paratrooper, and he took up skydiving with iFLY as part of his recovery. He and his wife Pixie went on to competitive skydiving and became seven-time British Freestyle Champions, as well as silver and bronze medal recipients in the 2010 and 2012 world championships, respectively. Hodgson said he was thrilled at the opportunity to fly with the athletes of ATF and to fly people who have overcome the same challenges he has.

“As disabled or handicapped people, I think sometimes people try to look out for us a little too much,” Hodgson said. “We have to use our imaginations and try new things and discover our limits, discover our own boundaries rather than those boundaries that other people set for us.”

The Adaptive Training Foundation works with its patients to develop a personalized 9-week plan to reach their athletic goals. The goals can vary from running in a marathon to learning how to walk straight again. Melissa McKay, operations manager for ATF, said this was the first time ATF has been involved with All Abilities Night, and added that the night served as an “equalizer” for the athletes, especially those who are wheelchair-bound.

“A lot of what we do at ATF is to push these individuals, our athletes, past the boundaries they think they can go or have been told that they can go,” McKay said. “Skydiving just falls right into that.”

Saramae Hollandsworth, an athlete with ATF, lost both of her legs from the knees down as a result of a severe infection that put her in a coma for two weeks. She said the experience was very freeing and really pushed her as an athlete.

“I’ve always, before losing my legs and since, been afraid of jumping out of an airplane. I didn’t think that was something I would ever aspire to,” Hollandsworth said. “This was a safe version of it, or a less frightening version of it.” Hollandsworth hopes to one day run in the Paralympics.

Jeremy Little said iFLY replicates the feeling of free falling, and even if you physically cannot jump from a plane or are too sacred to try, anyone can fly in the wind tunnels.

“If you’ve ever had the fear of jumping out of a plane, you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Little said. “You can come to iFLY, we’ll gradually work you into the tunnel, and you can go through the simulated feel of free falling.”