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Paralyzed pilot joins in on balloon festival fun
Michael Glen loves how people's eyes always widen with awe at the sight of his hot air balloon, then how their jaws completely drop as he rolls his wheelchair into the basket and soars into the heavens.
Seeing Glen in action isn't just inspiring for the eyes, the whole experience is pretty expansive for the mind, too. But that's what happens when you are the world's first paraplegic hot air balloon pilot.
"My message for everyone is that you really can accomplish anything you want," Glen told The Sun during a phone interview from his Tucson home. "I want to show people that no matter what, you can succeed."
Glen, 33, will bring that inspirational message to Yuma this weekend during the Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival. His balloon will have the proverbial welcome mat out for visitors, too.
"The public is more than welcome to come out and meet me. I always tell people it's not hard to find me. I'm not only balloonist there in a wheelchair!"
Glen grew up in Roswell, N.M., as an "athlete with a thirst for challenge," but he could never have foreseen the biggest challenge - and ultimately his highest calling - that would come into his life just two months after his 21st birthday. That's when a single-car rollover left Glen paralyzed from the waist down.
But Glen didn't allow this new challenge to hinder his long dream of becoming a balloonist, following in footsteps of his father. Even after being denied a pilot's license based on his physical challenge, Glen persisted, worked with the Federal Aviation Administration and became the world's first paraplegic balloonist.
"I have had some hard times and no matter what has occurred I have pushed through those obstacles. They have always made me a stronger person."
Now Glen travels to balloon festivals throughout the West, wowing people with his balloon - and his story. He attends anywhere from 50 to 100 festivals per year, but this will be his first time attending the Yuma event.
To learn more about Glen go to his Web site at www.RollingPilot.com
Darin Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6860.