My boyfriend at the time woke me early in the morning and told me to get up and dress warmly; he had a surprise for me. His friend Tom showed up and we crawled into my car. We went the back way, through beautiful winding roads and fall leaves. The two guys chattered excitedly on the way; I didn’t know about what. We finally wound up near Lookout Point in Chatanooga. We were taking hang gliding lessons. This did not thrill me. I have very little athletic ability and had heard that hang gliding was very dangerous. But I was unwilling to appear to be a spoilsport, or scared, so I agreed to try.
We spent an inordinate amount of time learning to strap ourselves up and into the gliders. There was a lot of talk about “safety” and we were given helmets to put on our heads. We were lectured about the mechanics of hang gliding and then were let to the “bunny hill” for beginners. We were to take a run and allow the glider to take us into the air. As the glider came down, we were supposed to “flare” so that we would wind up standing up to land. The instructor informed us that failing to do this would result in our becoming “human lawn darts.”
Somehow I was given the first turn. I ran down the hill but the wind failed to catch me. There was nothing to flare. The two guys took their turns. Nothing. It was my turn again. I took a run and a gust of wind caught me and lifted me right up. I went much higher than I expected. Then I was coming down, down, and the instructor was yelling at me to flare. I actually got my wits about me and flared, not wanting to be a human lawn dart. I landed on my feet. The guys tried a couple more times and then our lesson was over (thank God). They got lifted into the air a little bit but nothing like that one gust that I caught. I left relieved and intact.
It was only later that my boyfriend told me that he hadn’t realized how dangerous hang gliding was until that gust grabbed me and pulled me into the air. I can only say, thanks, bud, for dragging me along on an excursion that you had obviously not investigated in much depth.
I only learned many years later exactly how dangerous hang gliding is. I was an Ob/Gyn resident in New Orleans, and we had a staff member that had lived in a southwestern state where hang gliding is very popular. He told us he had cared from any number of para- and quadraplegics who had become so in hang gliding accidents. He said frequently, these women were early pregnant when they had their accidents, and some did not even realize they were pregnant. When labor came, because they were numb from the waist or neck down, they could not feel their own contractions to know that they were in labor. Instead, the contractions caused a rise in their blood pressure, which caused their heads to hurt. He told them to come into the hospital when their headaches (contractions) were five minutes apart. They had no other way of recognizing labor. I realized that that could have been me, had I failed to land correctly on the bunny slope and hit as a lawn dart, head first.
I have done sky diving, and scuba diving, and wind sailing, and all of these, while potentially dangerous, really don’t seem to hold a candle to the injuries possible even in very beginner hang gliding. I would not recommend against any of the above activities, although I am not sure I would do them again, but only the hang gliding would I tell someone else to “just say no.” I think the dangers inherent are just too great.