Starting Point
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Issue Date:  October 1, 2004

Starting Point


I am 49 years old and depend on others to bathe, dress and shave me. I spend up to 16 hours a day in my wheelchair. At times, I feel like a puppet subject to the whims of others.

So when I had the chance to do something in which I would be in control, free of someone else’s goodwill, I took the opportunity.

I went parasailing.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I have spastic cerebral palsy. Even with a blue sky, a gentle breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s -- a perfect day to parasail -- there was much at risk for me. Weather sometimes plays a part in my body’s stiffness, but it is not the only factor. I can also become stiff if I feel apprehensive. I knew that if I thought about it too much, I would back out.

I’m glad I didn’t.

I had my great adventure on the last full day of our family vacation. My brother-in-law Mike lifted me out of my wheelchair, and I, with nine other family members, embarked on a two-hour boat ride. My nephew Justin and I were the last to take flight. As we went up, my leg had a spasm and my stomach seemed to leave me -- but, thank God, these sensations didn’t persist long enough to stop me.

In my journal that day, I wrote, “Though I needed to be carried onto the chute, once in flight I felt I had complete freedom. In the chute, I was an equal to those who ventured with me to rise 500 feet above the ocean. … For those 10 minutes I was in the air able to forget my physical limitations.”

When I was flying, I was able to forget my dependency on others; with the help of a day’s gentle wind, I felt like a puppet with no strings -- totally free!

Afterward, back in my wheelchair, I felt emotionally drained, yet happy. I thought of Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration. On that August day I had my own mountaintop experience. I realized that if it weren’t for my faith, I wouldn’t have dared to try an adventure I will never forget.

Bill Zalot writes from Levittown, Pa.

National Catholic Reporter, October 1, 2004

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