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SCI Superstar: Lonnie Bissionette

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Lonnie Bissionette is as a stubborn as they come, and we love him for it. The first paraplegic BASE jumper in the world, he is the only paraplegic to BASE jump off of four objects, and the fact that he was paralyzed BASE jumping hasn’t stopped him one bit.

Lonnie is also a pioneer in the brand new sport – para-bobsleigh. He represented Canada earlier this year in the World Cup and made one heck of a showing. To learn more about this adrenaline junkie who’s also dedicated father and an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, read on.

Why he’s fearless

Long before Lonnie was paralyzed in 2004, he knew BASE jumping was one if his favorite things in the world. He had already been BASE jumping for 10 years before his injury. Lonnie started jumping off of buildings in Toronto, not far from his home in St. Catharine, Ontario, loving every minute of it.  Knowing this was his life’s passion, he began BASE jumping as much as possible.

And it was on his 1100 BASE jump when he was 39 years old, from a renowned bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, when his injury occurred. He wanted to do something different  for his 1100th jump, so when he jumped from the bridge he went into a somersault. Unfortunately the parachute caught around his ankle and was unable to open. Lonnie fell at 70 miles an hour and 541ft below into the river.

While lying in the water, he knew he was paralyzed, and he was pulled from the water just before drowning. Even though this was one of worst things that could’ve happened, he looks at his injury as a second chance at life. My “second birthday” as he likes to call it, and he was determined to BASE jump again as soon as possible to prove that his injury didn’t beat him. “I’m no quitter,” he says. Lonnie became a C3 incomplete quad. He can walk, but only short distances.

And within 12 months of his injury Lonnie did BASE jump again. His plan was to only jump once just to prove he could, a 500 ft base jump from Niagara Falls, but he loved it so much (and it went so smoothly) that he decided to become a regular BASE jumper again.

Over the following years, Lonnie would BASE jump from Skylon Tower in Ontario (420ft), Bridge Day in West Virginia (876ft), Devil’s Punch Bowl in Hamilton, Ontario (104ft), Sibu Tower in Malaysia (413 ft), and Kjerag (500ft) in Norway. And in 2011, he made history again being the first paraplegic to skydive in the wingsuit. So far, he is over 30 BASE jumps as a paraplegic.

What’s next

BASE jumping isn’t the only sport he’s been doing since his injury. In 2013, he tried paragliding in Spain, another sport he now loves, and in 2012 he was asked to try the brand new sport of para-bobsleigh. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Rick Hansen’s Relay (Rick is paraplegic and another SCI superstar we’ve profiled who pushed himself around the world), Lonnie too pushed hard, pushing himself 840 miles from Winnipeg to Calgary in 2012 and with minimal long distance wheelchair pushing experience. It totally shed light on Rick’s monumental achievement.

This was when Lonnie was asked to be on Canada’s new para-bobsleigh team. After a few years of training, Lonnie competed in the World Cup in January 2015 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, placing 3rd overall.  And amazingly, last year he returned the site if his injury – Perrine Bridge in Idaho – to jump again and to reclaim what it took from him, and this time it was a success.  The entire jump was profiled by ESPN (watch the video).

Now 50 years old and still going strong, recently skydiving for the Pan Am Games as a torchbearer (he has over 1600 skydives to his credit as well), this father of two sons is all about pursuing his dreams, and has become a great example for the spinal cord injury community

Would you return to the site of your injury to BASE jump?

– Visit his site: LonnieBissionette.com

– Follow him on FB: Lonnie Bissionette

Watch the videos!

– SPINALpedia visits Lonnie Bissonnette before his BASE jump in Malaysia

The tale of Lonnie Bissonnette who jumps off buildings in his wheelchair

Paralyzed BASE Jumper Rolls Off Bridge in Wheelchair

Lonnie Bissonnette ESPN (complete)

SCI Superstar: Rick Hansen

There are a lot of awesome things about Canada, and Rick Hansen is one of the coolest things about this beautiful place. This positive man’s journey post-injury may have began in athletics (and boy did he kick butt there), but that’s not where his resume ends; it’s where it begins. To millions of Canadians, Rick is known as the “Man in motion” for an amazing 40,000 mile journey that took two years to complete, wearing out 117 tires and 11 pairs of gloves in the process.

Why he’s fearless

Rick was injured at the age of 15 in 1973, while riding in the back of a pickup truck (it crashed, throwing him several feet). Despite being able to walk on crutches, there was no denying that he was paralyzed from the waist down. All of the sports and outdoor activities he grew up loving to do (in the small town of Williams Lake, British Columbia, where he’s from) now seemed out of reach. He had never known anybody with a disability before, and fell into a deep depression.

But then he discovered adapted sports, and his depression began to lift. Wheelchair volleyball, racing and wc-basketball were the sports he became involved in, and he got good fast. Rick won his first international wheelchair marathon in 1979, and he competed in wheelchair racing at both the 1980 and 1984 summer Paralympics, winning three gold medals two silver and a bronze. He also graduated with a degree in Physical Education at the University of British Columbia, and between 1979 in 1984, he won 19 international wheelchair marathons, including the 1984 world tour championships and the 1982 Boston marathon.

No wonder Canada loves this guy for his athletic prowess. In 1983, he received the Lou Marsh Award for Outstanding Canadian Athlete of the year (along with Wayne Gretzky, whom he shared the award with that year) and in 2000 British Columbia Wheelchair Sports named him “male athlete of the century.” If you take one look at Rick’s arm, even though he’s now 55 years old, you can tell athletics are in this man’s DNA.

It was in 1985 when he blew up even more on the scene, when he used his athletic skill for a greater good, going on the now-famous, “Man In Motion” tour, where he pushed himself 40,000 kilometers and through 34 countries. It took two years to complete (467 of those days were spent on the road) and he met his wife in the process (his physiotherapist left her job and joined him on the road. Aw). And the mission of this amazing trek? To raise money for spinal cord injury research. $26 million was raised and they also brought attention to the need to make communities more accessible and inclusive. Thankfully, a ton of great footage was taken from this epic event so you can get a taste of the excitement that surrounded it (watch here).

After his amazing odyssey, two huge things happened in his life – Rick married the love of his life, his doctor Amanda (they now have three beautiful daughters) and he founded what is now the largest disability foundation in Canada (helping millions each day) – the Rick Hansen Foundation. Their motto is really beautiful, “building a healthy, inclusive world” and they’ve helped raise a jaw-dropping $280 million towards spinal cord injury research. They also develop accessibility projects and quality of life initiatives.

What’s next

While staying busy working for his foundation and motivational speaking, environmentalism is another issue Rick has taken to. He grew up with a deep love of fishing and is an avid fisherman till this day. Knowing wild fish are endangered, he’s founding chair of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, helping to conserve and protect Fraser River white sturgeon and their habitat. He also formed the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund Society to help support the conservation and sustainable use of Pacific salmon stocks.

Rick also hasn’t forgotten his first love – athletics. He’s a wheelchair volleyball and basketball coach in his spare time, passing on his love of athletics  to younger generations.

Have you met Rick Hansen? How has he influenced your life?

Watch the videos!

Footage from Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion documentary (watch him roll through Europe)

Rick Hansen on-stage sharing his injury story at a We Day event

Rick Hansen opens up candidly about how he got over his depression after his injury

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Man In Motion tour, Rick Hansen goes skydiving on a popular Canadian TV show, the Rick Mercer Report

Rick Hansen photo courtesy of Franceso Cataldo