Getting through life with all your attributes intact is tricky enough especially if you then go and do something out of the ordinary but to do it with what is rather awkwardly labelled a ‘disability’ is something rather different. Aidan Murphy has one eye. Does he reckon he is disabled? Not likely. Here’s what he reckons we need to know.
Disability – dɪsəˈbɪlɪti/ noun – a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. The next time you take your car out for a drive, I would like you to do something, just for a few moments mind you. I want you to close your right eye and see what it feels like to drive with monocular vision. Welcome to my world, a world that changed for me as four year old kid when I ran out between two parked cars outside my family home on Main Street, Dunshaughlin, Ireland and got hit by an oncoming HGV that instantly severed my optic nerve.
A world where I learnt to drive but I also learned to fly Hot Air Balloons and indeed Helicopters. You see, I don’t do dis-ability. In my world that word simply does not exist. In fact it never did and never will, and those that know me will testify strongly to this. So how did I get to grips with the challenge of learning to fly and doing so minus the sight in one eye? I always maintain, you reap what you sow. I always knew I would have to try harder to achieve my childhood dream of learning to fly. I figured I would need to try three times harder, so I aimed for five times.
Although based in Dunshaughlin, County Meath, Ireland, it might come as a surprise that all my balloon flight training took part under the watchful eye of the Civil Aviation Authority in neighbouring England. Sixteen years ago, when Ireland had no formal pilot licensing for ballooning, it was a typed letter I wrote to the CAA in Gatwick Airport that was the shining key that opened the door. A door of ‘can do’, a door that paved the way that, if I put the effort in, there was an excellent chance of a positive outcome. Pivotal to this was the CAA’s response, which included an excellent briefing document for me and, more importantly, one I could pass on to my chosen instructor.
What followed next was the chronological list of things I had to accomplish. First up was the ground exams, the Cameron Crammer course was the chosen method. A hands on course that is run by Cameron Balloons in their HQ in Bristol, England. Study material was duly bought weeks in advance. British Balloon and Airship Club (BBAC) membership was taken out and boom!, the real learning had just begun. I studied my heart out for those exams; my ‘try five times harder to achieve 3 times greater’ was in full play. As my learning and exams were underway in Bristol, Major Jim Howard was a brilliant help to me with de-mystifying my hang-ups on navigation. The Cameron family’s openness, friendship and indeed hospitality were just fantastic, I had no excuse not to nail this, and I was in good company. With all my written exams done and dusted, next in line was the practical flight training. That short straw was drawn by the then Lindstrand School of Hot Air Ballooning based in Rhonda, Spain and headed up by Graham and Pam Elson. My main concern, would Graham be phased by my blindness in my right eye? Would it be a major distraction to my training? I need not have worried, it was never a real talking point except for informal chats over fabulous meals at Pam’s dinner table in the home from home I nicknamed the ‘Rhonda Hilton’. After multiple trips to the south of Spain, I was so hungry to get this license. I needed it, and I wanted it and, Oh the fun I was going to have when I got it. I remember during training of my time in the basket doing my supervised solo tether under the stunning and quite visible Milky Way on the side of a very dark mountain near Rhonda with zero light pollution, promising myself that if it all came to pass, I would give it all back by sharing this amazing aerostatic experience and never stop.
Roll on 16 years and I’m still sharing it and I do it now with my friends who roll in their wheelchairs. I can’t explain it but my last flight and indeed the next, carries that same excitement in my mind that the first time flier standing beside me in the basket is also experiencing. So you see, there is no disability, it’s a perception, a fallacy, a falsehood. If anybody ever says NO to you, they are simply showing you their limitations, not yours. So take the bull by the horns and just get out there and do it ….and remember…. when the lift drops you off at your floor, send it back down for the next person.