AMARILLO - Before 7:30 in the morning, when the moon still rules the sky, balloonists prepare for flight. Michael Glen says he lives for days like these. "They said I couldn't fly a balloon and so I went out to prove that I could," he said.
Glen was paralyzed from the knees down when he was 21 years old. The Federal Aviation Administration told him he'd never be able to take to the sky, but a specialized basket and several hours of training and testing later he became the first and only paraplegic hot air balloon pilot in the world.
Glen is one of 16 balloonists who took part in this weekend's "Up in the Air for Family Care" event, an area organization's way of reaching out to the community and raising money for families struggling with medical expenses. "It has grown over the last four years, it's gotten bigger and bigger," Chairman of the Family Care Foundation David Jones said.
Jones helped kick start the effort after attending the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque four years ago. "We realized that a bunch of the balloons were going to be parked or stored in Amarillo after coming back from Albuquerque," Jones said.
This event doesn't even have one fourth of the balloons that are at the fiesta in Albuquerque, but the balloonists says the view in Albuquerque doesn't compare to that of the canyon. "Albuquerque doesn't have Palo Duro Canyon like we've got here," Jones said. "It's beautiful," Glen said. "I was lucky enough to do it a couple years ago with David and it was one of the most memorable flights I've had so I'm going to do it again this morning."
And do it he did. Not only for the fun of it, or to help out the family care foundation, but to lift others up with him. "I just want to inspire one person. That's what I shoot for and that's what I want to do is make one kid realize that even if he's told no he can still achieve his dreams," Glen said. Glen has helped out with that event in the canyon every year since it was created.