Freedom to Fly

ALBUQUERQUE -- Balloon Fiesta crowds gathered around The Little Bees early Sunday morning.

Calm winds meant perfect conditions for one hot air balloon pilot who needed to take extra precautions while flying. Not because of his skill level, but because his balloon is attached to a bench instead of a basket.

Years ago, Michael Glen was paralyzed from the waist down in a car crash. He always dreamed of flying in a hot air balloon, so in 1997, he decided to stop looking down at his legs and started looking up.

"I'm the only guy in the world flying a balloon that's in a wheelchair," Michael said.

Even when the Federal Aviation Administration denied Michael a pilot's license because of his disability, he persisted and eventually proved he could fly.

Today, Michael flies one of the most recognizable balloons at the Balloon Fiesta: Little Bee Joelly. His gondola is a two-seat bench with seatbelts that he puts himself into one leg at a time.

"My goal in life is to show one person they can achieve anything… their goals, no matter how small or big they are—they are important and they can do anything they want," he said.

Michael hopes his story can encourage people to ignore perceived limitations of paraplegics and help them fight for their dreams.

"Too many people tell us we can't do something," he said. "I just try to inspire people to say, 'You can.'"

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