A new, amazing chapter in life began for me the second I broke the bonds of earth.
No, I don’t fly airplanes. I’m not your typical pilot. I fly something else… something more simple, hardly sophisticated. Something that leaves me suspended above the earth by nothing more than a few strings dangling from a piece of fabric. I am a part of a new wave of aviation, powered paragliding.
Thousands of people, all ages, shapes, abilities, nationalities, male and female, are discovering that powered paragliding is the easiest, safest and most affordable way to own an aircraft and become a pilot. Yes, an actual pilot. The average Jane can’t afford an aircraft, let alone the cost it takes to pursue a pilot’s license. But with powered paragliding, almost anyone can own their own aircraft — and fly! Price tag? Under $8000.
So what is powered paragliding (or PPG for short)? Most of you have probably never heard of it. I sure knew nothing of the sport and I have tried almost every adventurous activity that exists. Sailing, sky diving, white water rafting, rock climbing, bungee jumping, dirt bike riding, hiking and skateboarding. But the experience of PPG is different. You’re leaving the earth behind. The places you can go and explore are almost limitless: you’re not restricted to roads, water, or paths laid out by those who came before you. Instead, you can take your aircraft and fly inches off the ground or thousands of feet in the air in any direction.
My flights have taken me along beaches in Costa Rica, Florida, California and Mexico. I have seen breathtaking terrain while flying through mountains, alongside rivers, over lakes and across the great plains of America. I have flown beside some amazing wildlife, dropped down low to explore abandoned structures, all while sharing these adventures with some of my best friends…my soulmates in the sky. There are no words, really, for the feeling of landing after a flight, but sharing stories of the incredible journey you just experienced together comes pretty close.
When I discovered this sport 4 years ago, I knew I had to try it, and signed up for lessons. When I showed up for my paramotor training that first morning, the field was filled with men and I began to wonder if I had made a mistake.
Where were the other women? Could this sport just be for men?
Was the equipment going to be too heavy? Is that why there were no women here? But I couldn’t let those thoughts stop me. I was committed. I wanted to pursue my life long dream of flight and I did just that. I, a woman, learned to fly a paramotor in just one week!
Since that first flight, my life has changed forever: not only do I get to experience adventure on a weekly basis, I am also giving others from around the world the same opportunity I had. In fact, I’ve become so absorbed by this amazing sport that I had to make it my profession. I am responsible for the daily operations at BlackHawk Paramotor USA, where I share my knowledge of the sport, our gear and my passion for flight. Not only am I known as “the flying mom” at my kids’ school, but I encourage others to take advantage of “their time”: to fulfill the same dream of flight that I had. Now Madilyn, whose father runs the second largest paramotor training school in the US, and who just turned eleven, will be making her first flight this fall — and I’m proud that she and I both can serve as role models for women and girls, who may not know that they can take to the skies.
So what are you waiting for, misadventurers? Just think about the adventures that await you! Stop dreaming and start doing. Join me in the sky. Become a pilot. You won’t regret it.
Heidi Lee, a single mother of two, has been active all her life, whether playing sports through college or leading guided trips through the mountains. All of these adventures have been amazing but none compare to flight. Powered paragliding has re-opened her sense of adventure, and she has become one of the United States’ leading women pilots.