Words: Erica du Toit
“That was awesome!” were the first words quadriplegic William Guillum-Scott spoke as he landed after a paragliding jump from Signal Hill last Thursday.
Most people would not believe that anyone who is paralyzed from the neck down would want to place themselves in a dangerous situation, let alone actually do it. But for Will, this has been a lifelong dream. “I aim to inspire, and to be inspired,” he says, and he has certainly done so for anyone who witnessed this adventurer in action!
Will had an accident during gymnastics training for the World Championships in Germany at the age of 16, injuring his spine to the extent that he has little or no movement below his shoulders. Since then, Will has been determined to actively live his life despite the many challenges. Over the years, well-meaning people have given him their opinions on how he should behave as someone who effectively lives in bed, but with characteristic determination he refuses to bow to conformity and lives life in his way.
Will’s philosophy is “Impossible is Nothing” and it was under this mantra that he decided the time was right to take on paragliding. Most companies were not prepared to take the risks associated with taking a quadriplegic on a tandem jump, but Jan de Jager of Para-Taxi Paragliding had no such fears. “I have a family member who is paralyzed and to see his enjoyment when I took him up for the first time was really special. It’s what makes my job so amazing!” says Jan.
After several failed attempts due to inclement weather and tremendous excitement and anticipation, the day dawned overcast and windy – perfect for paragliding! The wind began to pick up and there were a few moments when the pending jump seemed threatened. As with most people with disabilities, the question is not whether or not they are able to accomplish something, but rather HOW it will be done. Suiting up in the harness required a little extra assistance, as well as eventually connecting to the paraglide and his pilot Jan.
At last he was off, and as the wind filled the paraglide and took off, Will let out a whoop of joy and delight. How incredible to see someone who is unable to walk, given the chance to fly – free of all the constraints related to quadriplegia! It’s the stuff of goosebumps!
Over the next 30 minutes, Will flew over Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and out to sea, at times rising above the clouds, before coming in to land on the Sea Point promenade. Friends, Family and colleagues rushed to greet him and heard his first words: “That was AWESOME!” It was some time before he caught his breath, and then it was to say that he’d like to do it again!
People’s attitudes towards persons living with disabilities is the greatest barrier to their living an independent and fulfilling life. The truth is that we are all people with disabilities; we have just not had that trauma or incident yet. For the most part, many of us will not have that experience, but we will all age, and with that comes a measure of hearing loss, low vision and difficulty in getting around.
Will is also hoping to raise funds for Western Cape APD, a group of volunteers and staff of dedicated people who work with people with disabilities in creating better communities, lifestyles and workplaces for persons with disabilities.
Will’s message to other persons with disabilities is to “…take control of your life. Live it your way and be careful who you ask for guidance. Many people mean well but their attitudes and perceptions are limiting.”
Not one to waste any time, Will is already working on his next adventure – scuba diving - and has already had his first lesson. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll be reading more about what he’s been up to early in the New Year…
Follow Will on Twitter @guillum or Western Cape APD @WC_APD to make sure you don’t miss out on anything!
Contact person: Mrs Erica du Toit
Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities
Tel no. : (021) 555-2881