Jacqueline Meline was born with cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair her whole life.
Still, she always believed that – somehow, some way – she would fly.
“I have wing tattoos on my feet because it shows that I won’t let my wheelchair hold me back,” Meline said. “That is something that really symbolizes that for me.”
Thanks to a special program conducted quarterly by the indoor skydiving adventure just off of Route 7 in Sterling, iFly Loudoun, Meline shed her wheelchair and, in a very real way, took flight.
“I really did feel like I was flying,” she said. “I had the feeling of weightlessness. It was just a really incredible experience.”
The indoor skydiving experience opened in Loudoun about two years ago. Indoor skydiving is the simulation of true freefall conditions in a vertical wind tunnel. It’s where the dream of flight becomes a reality. Nearly anyone at any age can participate.
Operations Manager Trevor Gibbs said the quarterly All Abilities Night events are very popular at all of the current 37 iFly locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
“All Abilities Night started about 2 ½ years ago at our location in Portland, Oregon,” Gibbs said. “One of the managers had a son with special needs and he was really tied into the special needs community there. They decided to put on a special night that they could block off the time and be dedicated just to people with special needs. We have done six of them in the two years we have been here.”
Gibbs said the All Abilities Nights are part of iFly Loudoun’s overall philosophy of being part of — and giving back to — the community.
“Every month, we also pick a local partner that we raise money for,” he said. “For example, during April we raised money for Arc of Loudoun. All during the month, [customers] had the option of upgrading their package and the money goes to that organization. I think we raised about $1,000 for Arc of Loudoun, but I don’t have the final tally yet.”
Gibbs said the iFly experience is all about a unique way for people to challenge themselves, get outside their comfort zones and have a great time in the process.
“Essentially, it is a 14-foot diameter wind tunnel,” Gibbs said. “What we replicate is the free fall portion of skydiving, except there is no airplane, no parachute, no landing or anything like that. The wind just kind of supports you so you’re almost like floating, flying your own body.”
Gibbs said All Abilities participants get a dramatic reduction in fees, and the events provide extra fulfillment for his staff.
“These nights are kind of special in their own way and it is really rewarding to see people who thought this was absolutely out of their reach and that never in a million years would they be able to do something like this,” he said. “It’s a very good experience for them in building up their confidence and getting them out of their comfort zone.”
Meline said she had been looking forward to trying iFly for quite a while. She said the experience went beyond what she had imagined.
“When I was watching the other people go up before me, the nerves were definitely there, but I was excited,” she said. “As soon as I got in there my nerves completely went away. I felt weightless.”
Meline said the iFly staff were very helpful, both in preparing for their turn to “fly” and helping them through their apprehension as well.
“I thought everyone was absolutely amazing,” she said. “Everything was so accessible and nobody flinched at any of our needs. They made sure you felt just like everyone else.”
Meline said she couldn’t wait for her next chance to take flight.
“I would love to do it again,” she said. “When I came home, I was so overwhelmed that I just started to cry out of thankfulness. It was incredible.”
For more information, visit iflyworld.com/loudoun.