True Grit

Dave Broyles © 1996

If there is anything in life that I admire, it's a person that just won't give up. I won't say that I abhor quitters, because there are reasons why any one will call it a day on any endeavor. But when I hear a story about a person triumphing against all odds, I am always excited and pleased.

Hang gliding is a sport for which the learning process has some likelihood of injuries, especially for women. I read once that one fourth of the women hang gliding have broken an arm. This must be true, because I have talked to a lot of women hang glider pilots, and many of them have broken an arm. I also know as an instructor, that most people who get an injury, even a minor one such as a sprained ankle while learning to hang glide usually, for one reason or another, quit the sport.

Five years ago, I broke an arm hang gliding. It was a bad break, but with my years of flying, I was only waiting until the day I could get back flying again. I was in a wheel chair for some weeks due to a dislocated ankle in the same accident. While I was wheel chair bound, a young woman called me about hang gliding lessons, (I run a school). I had several people filling in for me while I couldn't go out to the levees, and this young woman started lessons under the tuteledge of Randy Tripp. Randy, although only an assistant instructor was and is an excellent instructor, and the young woman was making progress and soon earned her hang 1. Right after that, the doctor cleared my ankle for walking, though my arm was still in a sling, and I went out to monitor a lesson being conducted by Randy. On about her fifth flight of the day, the young woman landed on the wheels, and the glider turned and rolled into high grass, stopping suddenly. We called out, "Are you alright?" and she said, "My arm is broken." Randy and I rushed down to see what had happened, and found that she had struck her arm on a down tube and it was broken. I went with her to the hospital. There was substantial comment about me standing around with my arm in a sling while she was standing around with her arm in a sling, the kindest of which was "You would think that looking at your instructor would tell you something." The X-Rays subsequently showed her humorus was broken in two places and that she would require surgery correction for it to heal properly. The upshot was that she would not be able to resume lessons for a year after her arm was broke.

She came to the hang gliding club meeting every month for a year, defiantly brandishing her broken arm and asserting that she was still going to learn to fly. By the time she was cleared by her doctors to start back to flying, I had learned to fly paragliders and was on my way to becoming a paragliding instructor. So she was my first paragliding student. She made rapid progress and soon was a Class I paraglider pilot and a Packsaddle Soaring Association member in good standing except for a pronounced tendency to land in the trees from time to time.

By this time, most of you know I'm talking about Lynda Wacht. She had made several attempts to get back into hang gliding, but the memory of her broken arm held her back. Finally one day she cranked off some flights from the Murcheson training hill, and then after that, step by step, she came back to flying hang gliders as well as earning her Class II paraglider rating.

Every time that I think that Lynda has sort of topped out for a while, I get surprised. She was helping me instruct paragliding last summer. After the students were through for the day, Lynda and I towed up from scooter tow and both went XC, I for 3 miles and she for about 6 m. A few weeks later, Lynda towed up to 400 ft. from scooter tow, caught a thermal and went XC. Figuring that if the pupil could do it so could the teacher, I started towing about 1 tow ever 3 minutes until another cycle came through. I caught a whisper, then a stream, then a torrent of rising air, and I thermalled off heading downwind to Stonebridge ranch where Lynda had landed before. Surely she didn't go farther than this, I thought. Then came a call from Weston that Lynda was up there. I had gone about 7 miles and she had gone 14. Curses, foiled again. And her vario was only an Avocet Pilots watch.

Soon Lynda was scooter towing hang gliders as well as the best of my other students. She instantly picked up platform launch, and when we went to Justin, Texas to aerotow behind a Cosmos trike, she immediately aerotowed like a pro, except for one thing. She towed to 2000 ft. straight as an arrow and released, turned down wind and headed for Fort Worth. I got on the radio to inform her that unless she was planing an XC, she might want to do a 180. She turned back and landed about 1/2 mile downwind after fighting a 25 mph headwind all the way to the ground.

She soon went to the South Tow Site and proved that she could thermal a hang glider as well as she thermalled a paraglider staying up for about 20 minutes on her Vision Mk 4.

When Hungary Joe came to town, with his DragonFly AeroTug, she cranked out 8 flights, once again proving that she was solid as a rock under tow never locking out, never flailing around, always in the right place.

Up to date, she has been flying every chance she has gotten, only being hampered by some impromptu aerobatics her boy friend, John performed in his Jeep Cherokee. This wasn't John's fault. A motorist coming the other way just had a bad day and t-boned John's truck, sending it rolling down the highway. Unfortunately her glider was on the roof, but fortunately, there was no unrepairable damage to the glider and only moderate damage to Lynda and John. The truck, of course, was destroyed.

So why did I call this article "True Grit"? Well, I know Lynda pretty well. You might think that she stuck with hang gliding because she had a death wish or was too dumb to be afraid. Neither true. The first time we went back to the training hill with a hang glider after she had broken her arm, I saw that she was really afraid. The sort of "I can't get my feet to move down the hill." type of fear. I honored that fear. I understood being incapacatated by an injury and why one would NOT want that to happen again. It was clear that she wasn't ready to go back to hang gliding again, so I taught her to paraglide. From time to time, she would stand on a hill with a hang glider, or make an abortive little launch. But I could see she was still not ready yet. Gradually her skill on a paraglider became really polished and she became a confident pilot capable of getting her paraglider out of a tree at a moments notice. Pretty soon she began avoiding trees entirely. She became aware that she was stronger and healthier than she had been when she had broken her arm. At this point, though she was still afraid, she got her feet moving down the hill at Mucheson and got in a hang glider flight.Colliding with the goal posts didn't retard her progress at all, and soon she was flying from Packsaddle and scooter tow. I have already stated her prowess on a hang glider. Soon she will be doing spot landings for her hang 3. The fear has gone out of her eyes, at least partly. Still, if the conditions or the flight task exceeds her inner limits, she chooses not to fly. But more often than not, she is out there circling in thermals and astonishing us with her progress. Every time I see her fly, she is flying a little better. I don't know where her future lies as a hang glider pilot. She might become an instructor, or a competition pilot or a world record holder, but I don't expect her flying career to be commonplace.

As I said when I started writing, I respect the ability to overcome all odds.True courage is the ability to be able to face fear and keep going. "True Grit."

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