Ever since my childhood, I’ve dreamt of being like a bird. In my little boy eyes, birds were above all the obstacles; they could fly and move at the drop of a hat and then return to the olive tree in our yard. Flying was something awe-inspiring that meant freedom. But for a 6-year-old child from Iran with a physical disability, flying was something out of reach.
Some years later, as my muscular dystrophy progressed and I had to use a wheelchair to move around, the barriers became even more obvious to me. At first sight, it seemed my dreams were vanishing along with the strong seasonal winds in my hometown Manjil.
But, little by little, I came to the conclusion that I had to stick with my dreams and pursue them. My first step was to try an Ultralight airplane, which turned out to be one of life’s most exciting experiences for a boy with a severe disability. Diving with the Ultra-light airplane and trying out exciting maneuvers was really outstanding. But it didn’t satisfy my soul; I wanted more.
Some time passed, and I started communicating with people in different countries. Eric, who was a French man, told me about a famous movie called Intouchables, a film based on the true story of a rich quadriplegic man. He changed my view towards limitations and disabilities.
It inspired me to better myself, to live life to the full. I had achieved many things already: I worked as a freelance journalist, active in interviewing successful people with disabilities and writing on disability issues. I had my own Virtual Academy of Foreign Languages service that offered language services to Iranian students, especially those with disabilities.
I had achieved most of the dreams, but there was a gap. I had the will to fly like bird, but I could not find the way!
My power wheelchair gave me a sense of freedom on the ground – overtaking people on crowded sidewalks tells me I have some advantages in spite of my disability. But having freedom on the ground was not enough for me – I needed to feel freedom in the sky!
After this I saw some advertisements for tandem flying, and I wondered whether companies offering this service would fly a person with a physical disability. But my fear of hearing no stopped me from pursuing it.
However, while I was busy with my negative thoughts, I received news from my friend Mohamad Moghadamshad that he had done tandem flying with a pilot friend. His experience paved the way for my memorable experience as I plucked up the courage to arrange a tandem flight with Flying for All.
On the day, there was a mountain to climb to reach my dream, literally! But I was determined to do it. So, on a clear early morning with a view of Tehran, we climbed the mountain with a patrol car. After one hour we were on top of the mountain.
We started setting up the glider. The man I would be flying with, Mr. Mahmoud Bagheri, had experience of flying with people with disabilities. With confidence in him, I was ready to jump.
All prepared, with my legs tied together to prevent them from hitting the ground during takeoff and landing, and assisted by other instructors, Mr. Bagheri started running on the slope.
We smoothly lifted off the ground and were in the air in just a second! I could not believe that I was finally flying. It was so quiet and peaceful. Sometimes a slight breeze would brush up against my face and add to the peaceful moments of my tandem flying.
I could see Milad Tower and the rest of the city. As we flew over the city, it was great to think that all the barriers were far away from me, miles under my feet and unable to touch me in the air. Finally, we landed safely and smoothly.
I repeated this experience again and again, and I even tried scuba diving off Kish Island, located in the Persian Gulf, as another form of feeling freedom. It didn’t stop there as I also tried Gyrocopter (a plane, like a small helicopter), which was outstanding. .
Now, Mohamad and I are planning a trip around Europe with an accessible motorhome. On this journey, we are determined to experience activities that are not possible for people with disabilities to do in Iran, such as tandem sky-diving and bungee jumping with a wheelchair.
We would be delighted to interact with people all around Europe, so I’m doing my best to establish a website. I have named it IADT, which stands for Iranian Adventurer with Disabilities Team, and aims to guide people with disabilities on how to do extreme sports and become an adventurer. Please do take a look by visiting www.IADT.ir.
I hope to see more people with disabilities doing seemingly impossible activities – it’s the best way of inspiring society and show how disabled people can be capable of anything.
By Saeed Zarooi
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