Juan flying high

Wheelchair kids break the bonds of gravity

by Quest Staff on January 2, 2009 - 3:26pm

Talk about a chance for a kid to go airborne!

The producers of “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee” (an educational show for kids and teens on the Nickelodeon network) recently were looking for a young person with muscular dystrophy who might want to take a zero-gravity (weightless) plane flight, and have his or her experiences taped for the show.

It wasn’t hard to locate a kid who’d be overjoyed at such an opportunity. Fourteen-year-old Juan Giraldo of Tampa, Fla., who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair, jumped at the chance.

In October, Juan boarded a plane operated by Las Vegas-based Zero Gravity (Zero G) Corporation, a privately held space entertainment and tourism company. Here is his description of his flight, which he took with a group of other children:

“Our plane looked like a regular Boeing 727 until we saw the seats. There were just a few in the back. The front of the plane was empty! Our pilots flew out over the ocean and we were placed on the floor. Then the plane started to climb, and we weighed two times our normal weight until I suddenly started lifting up off the floor and realized I was weightless!

Kids and instructors on zero g plane
Juan Giraldo (white patch on jumpsuit) floats in the center of a group of kids who all use wheelchairs for different reasons.

“The coaches helped us do flips and tricks that were only a dream for me on land, and we had all the hang time we wanted -- more than any basketball player in the world! We also tried to eat pieces of candy that were floating in the air (which was very difficult because they were always moving a different direction than I was).

“The most interesting thing was our experiments with water. In the air, it was bubbles … and whenever we touched them with our hands, we got a little wet and the water broke into smaller bubbles. But when our weightless time ended, the bubbles splattered back down onto the floor and became regular water again!

“My Zero G flight was the most unforgettable experience I’ve ever had.”

“Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: The View from My Chair” segment aired on November 16, 2008. Says Juan of the experience: “Being weightless, and not having to be in my chair, was incredible.”

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