Tandem skydiving for the physically challenged?

My brother-in-law has ALS. It’s progressing fairly rapidly, but he can can still walk with difficulty. His birthday is next week, and he desperately wishes to skydive once in his life. So:

Is this possible? I know George H. W. Bush did a tandem skydive on his 80th birthday, so the physical demands cannot be that rigorous.

Are there skydivers who specialize in the physically challenged?

Is this possible in the Midwest, ideally in the Kansas City area?

He’s a great guy who has always been very physical, athletic and fearless, and we really want to make this happen for him.

Any information, especially from skydivers in the KC area, is appreciated.

Possible, yes. You will need to contact various dropzones and speak with the tandem instructors and/or the DZ Safety & Training Advisor. Be prepared to discuss exactly what your BIL is and is not physically capable of - for example is he just lacking fine motor skills but he has pretty good gross control of his limbs? If he puts on a backpack can he grasp the shoulder straps tightly (that is close to the exit position used, gives the student something to hold onto other than the instructor or the door!).

Back in the 1990s I helped run a skydiving club at the University of Illinois in Champaign. We jumped at a DZ in Indiana and the roommate of our club president was one of the wheelchair athletes - upper body was absolutely fine, just no use of his legs. He did a tandem jump, they strapped his legs together up to his waist. Everything went well and he had a blast. The instructor didn’t want to make a habit of it since it made moving about in the plane, exit and landing trickier.

You might find one instructor who is totally fine with it and another who isn’t so check around, just be very honest about what your BIL can do, it’s a safety issue. But yes, there are plenty of disabled people who have made skydives, elderly folks (90s and up) who have limited strength and may be physically frail, etc. I met a girl back in the 1990s who was, IIRC, the first paraplegic to be a licensed skydiver in the US (she had a limited “A” license - the basic skydiving license - that required her tandem partner. She could pack, do a certain amount of maneuvering in freefall using her arms, spot the exit, fly her canopy, flare for landing, etc. Basically everything but walk out to the plane).

I never jumped in Kansas so I don’t have any recommendations there, unfortunately. The United States Parachute Association (www.uspa.org) is a good place to start, they have a list of group member drop zones all across the country.

Good luck and hope he can have a jump, it’s an experience he won’t forget!

Thanks for the info. I’ll have to get info from my sister about what his specific limitations and abilities are at the moment. I found and registered at dropzone.com, and found they have a forum for Skydivers with Disabilities and posted a modified version of this post over there.

I spoke to my sister. He has all of his upper body strength and control, and can support himself on his legs - he just has a difficult time walking.

I have contacts for Air Capital dropzone and Skydive Kansas and will call both. Thanks!

I am not a tandem instructor but that sounds like he’d be fine. My guess is that they’ll be particularly careful on the landing; tandems will often do a nice gentle butt slide so as long as he can raise his legs up in front of him (imagine sitting in a swing, can he just stick his legs out straight in front and hold them there) that’d be ideal. In freefall the tandem is stabilized by a small drogue chute, he can flap his arms all he wants and his legs will naturally tend to blow back like his feet are going towards his butt (really, the instructor’s butt).

On behalf of my friends who were tandem instructors tell him not to have a really heavy, greasy breakfast that morning :smiley:

Cool, thanks for the information and the re-assurance. Looks like we’ll make this happen for him.

I’ll let him know. Sounds like the decision Penn Jillette made when he was to go up in the “Vomit Comet” airplane - to eat something for breakfast that wouldn’t taste too bad coming back up. He chose a Cinnabun and a Diet Pepsi.