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Winging It! With Dr. Paul

Sky Sailing

You've met Bret before, in the Visa Card ad. The one that shows the multi-colored sailplane in a steep bank above the Livermore valley. "Sky Sailing," the copy reads, "where you can't soar with American Express." Soon, you won't be able to soar there at all. The land under Sky Sailing has been sold.

Bret has operated the state's finest soaring school for nearly twenty years, and he is undoubtedly the best glider instructor around. Above the hills northeast of San Jose, he teaches about ridge lift and thermals and mountain wave. Soon his grass runway will be bulldozed, and we'll have to go to Calistoga to soar. If Bret can't find another field, he's out of business. But Bret seems strangely unconcerned. He's surmounted far more serious challenges.

Four years ago, Bret sustained a spinal injury in a freak towplane accident. At first the doctors told him he'd never walk. But they never said anything about flying. Within a year he had rigged two of his gliders with hand controls; the next May he was back performing his Sailplane Ballet at the Watsonville Airshow. Through the arduous transition from wheelchair to crutches to cane, it was soaring which bolstered Bret's sagging spirits.

During his months of physical therapy at the VA hospital, Bret got to know quite a few other spinal injury patients. Many had been military pilots, who felt they'd never fly again. Bret was determined to prove them wrong. Not only that, he sensed that soaring would give a sense of purpose to others who had lost their accustomed mobility. His school has come to specialize in flight training for the disabled. Bret says he knows of no better therapy.

Spinal injury, Bret maintains, is an equal opportunity disability. It can strike anybody, in an instant. Bret himself was always active and athletic. He wasn't about to let the accident change that; he refused to let himself vegetate. His determination has been an inspiration to all similarly afflicted. Sky Sailing has come to represent hope for the disabled.

And now it's being closed. Bret feels confident he'll find another location, and resume operations in short order. I hope so. He's just regained the use of his legs. We can't let them take away his wings.

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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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