This Side of 60

A few years ago, my husband and I had a wonderful vacation in northern Michigan. Our daughter had just graduated from high school and we drove her to Interlochen Music Camp.
While there, we decided to explore the area. One highlight of that trip was a hang-gliding exhibition on the shores of Lake Michigan.
We watched pilots launch their gliders from a cliff—one after the other. They jumped into space, soared like eagles, and then glided to the sandy beach below.
Memories of that experience came back recently when I was looking through a beautiful book of aerial photography by Carl Hiebert.
Hiebert made aviation history when he flew a successful 58-day flight across Canada in an open cockpit ultra-light plane—a journey of 5,000 miles.
His plane had a 47-h.p. modified snowmobile engine. It was so small, in fact, that if there was a strong head wind, the plane actually flew backwards. The press dubbed Hiebert’s plane a “motorized lawn chair.”
Also a photographer, Hiebert took 14,000 pictures from the air and later edited them down to the 141 breathtaking pictures in his book, “A Gift of Wings: An Aerial Celebration of Canada.”
Hiebert won many prestigious awards for his book, including the Vanier Award, the King Clancy Award, the Honorary Guild Shield, and the Paul Tessandier Award.
But, more important than the public success of this book was the personal triumph it represented.
Hiebert’s only dream as a boy was to fly. “I’d crawl onto the roof of the house or the silo by the barn. It wasn’t the need to climb so much as it was the fascination of seeing things from above,” he remembers.
As an adult, Hiebert learned to skydive and hang-glide, practising until he fulfilled his dream of soaring above the earth like an eagle.
Then in 1981, he was given the chance to test the wind in a hang-gliding exhibition. It was a great moment. But just as he launched, a strong gust of wind came up. Instead of flying, Hiebert fell.
He had no feeling in his legs and his first thought was, “I’ve broken my back. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I don’t think I can handle this. I don’t want to live.”
But his next thought was, “I still have my mind. I need to see this as a challenge. The issue here is not my broken back, it’s my attitude. How I handle this is up to me.”
Eleven years later, Hiebert began his historic flight across Canada, which led to the publication of “A Gift of Wings.”
Although Hiebert lives with constant pain, he is an inspiration to everyone he meets. He travels internationally, speaking about human potential.
“Life is not fair,” says Hiebert. “Whether we rise to the challenge of adversity or are devastated by it is largely a matter of choice. Ultimately, we are responsible for that choice.”
So when you feel sorry for yourself because of your particular handicaps, whatever they may be, remember this amazing man and his wisdom.
Hiebert inspires each of us to remember that even when you can’t “walk,” you can still “fly.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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