‘Rolling pilot’ overcame spinal cord injury

Published: September 11, 2009  |  Source: rgj.com
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Michael Glen took his first hot-air balloon flight when he was 2 weeks old.

Growing up in a ballooning family, he never had any doubts that he would one day become a pilot himself.

His life changed when, at age 21, he suffered a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident that paralyzed him from the waist down.

“Of course, I freaked out a little bit right after the accident,” said Glen, 34, of Cortaro, Ariz. “But after a while, I realized you have two choices: to live or to die, and I chose to live my life and do the things I want to do.”

That included his dream of becoming a balloon pilot, a goal he accomplished in 2006, becoming the first paraplegic balloon pilot in the world.

“I never did it to be the first,” said Glen, who is making his first appearance at the Great Reno Balloon Race this year as “The Rolling Pilot.” “I did it because ballooning is what we do in my family.”

His father, Bill, who also is participating in Reno this year, was flying balloons before Michael was born.

“My dad flies, my brother is a pilot, my mom and my wife are on the chase teams,” he said. “It’s what we do.”

When he isn’t flying, Michael Glen works as a motivational speaker, talking to everyone from business groups to school children.

“The main point I try to get across to them is you can achieve anything you want,” he said. “You just have to believe.”

His trip to Reno, which was arranged by the Reno Access Advisory Committee and funded by the Reno City Council, included presentations to students at Galena High School on Wednesday and Marvin Picollo School on Thursday.

The students at Marvin Picollo, which serves physically and mentally challenged youngsters, included inflating his balloon on the school’s upper field. Children and school staff cheered as the balloon inflated.

Principal Matt Burak said the students and teachers alike could benefit.

“Our students like big things,” he said. “Only some of our kids will be able to understand the significance of the fact the pilot is disabled. The teachers will benefit in seeing how far a person with limited-mobility can go. The sky’s the limit. It’s true. I’m hoping the staff will be inspired by seeing this. It will be inspirational for everybody.”

Glen will be providing tethered rides to children during the Great Reno Balloon Race today through Sunday.

By Guy Clifton