A Road to Recovery: One Hang Glider Pilot’s Story
By LYDIA BERGLAR
With months of perseverance and the help of Trenton Physical Therapy, a hang gliding pilot and instructor known as Goat has made significant recovery after a serious hang gliding crash. As he patiently continues with physical therapy, he looks forward to gliding through the skies once again.
On April 19, 2022, Goat failed his launch and crashed into the side of Lookout Mountain. Remembering the accident, Goat explained, “I blew the launch. You have to be fully present, but I was thinking about other things. It wasn’t the conditions, it wasn’t the glider, it wasn’t the trees, it wasn’t the wind. That level of distraction…I almost paid for it with my life, but I got lucky, plus I had good doctors.”
The doctors warned him that there was a possibility that he would not be able to walk again. He explained, “I’m not sure if the doctors mentioned that as a worst case scenario or if they were using it to motivate me to do my physical therapy.”
Goat began working with George Reed and Laura Durel at Trenton Physical Therapy because his orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Peter Nowotarski) recommended the local company. Both physical therapists spoke highly of Goat’s dedication and outlook on his recovery.
Goat noted that hang gliding accidents are almost always the pilot’s fault. “It’s almost unheard of that the equipment fails. We do a pre-flight test every time. And if the conditions are too rough, you should be smart enough to know not to fly.”
Goat thinks that hang gliding pilots generally experience a healthy dose of fear. “That’s what keeps you safe. The number one reason for a crash is complacency.”
Even with that bit of fear, Goat finds flying to be peaceful. Like many who enjoy the sport, he appreciates the serenity. “You’re up there by yourself. I enjoy listening to the birds and flying with an eagle or hawk.”
The accident resulted in multiple broken bones including several ribs, his pelvis, and an elbow. Goat was hospitalized for a month and spent the following month in a wheelchair before starting physical therapy. Not long after starting physical therapy, he began walking with a walker because his elbow injury wouldn’t allow him to use crutches.
If you watch him walk today, you would not know that he has ever been in a wheelchair.
Reed reported, “He’s just been a miracle in how quickly he’s progressed. He’s far exceeded my expectations. We’ve done manual therapy which involves stretching and mobilizing ligaments of joints and a lot of activity to regain strength, control, function. We’ve worked on balance and his gait.”
One of Goat’s goals is to be able to run short distances fast enough to complete a hang gliding launch from the bluff. He has glided again since the accident, but he started from the ground rather than the bluff. “I don’t have the personality to let the mountain beat me. Even if I didn’t want to fly again, I would launch again just to launch again. I can’t run yet; I can’t take the impact.”
Reed and Durel recommended running in a pool, so Goat utilizes the South Chattanooga Community Center. Reed said, “He’s been working in the pool on his off days. He’s had to deal with a good bit of pain through the healing process, and we’ve worked around that.”
Both physical therapists attribute much of the recovery to Goat’s dedication. “He’s been the model patient and done everything we asked him to do at home,” Reed said. “He’s well in tune with his body.”
Goat recalled his first steps after the accident. “I had confidence, borderline arrogance, that I would walk again. Those first steps were more like ‘of course’ rather than ‘yay.’ Celebrating would signify completion, but I’m not done yet. It is still a ‘yay’ every day that I’m walking.”
Durel reflected, “He’s very much like Marcus Aurelius and the Stoic philosophers. I have grown as an individual through working with him. You couldn’t ask for a better patient. He was so integral in his own recovery process.”
When Durel begins working with a patient, she asks them what their goals are. “The goals are very personal and functional. Someone might say that she wants to be able to go grocery shopping. I ask, ‘Why do you want to go grocery shopping?’ When she explains, ‘So I can cook with my grandkids,’ it becomes personal. It’s something to work toward. Goat’s goal was getting back to flying. He’s committed to retraining his body the right way – not just becoming functional, but doing quality movements.”
Goat’s path brought him to hang gliding two years ago. He restored antiques for 20 years, living in Memphis and other states prior to joining the Lookout Mountain Flight Park community.
“The hang gliding community has been amazingly helpful and supportive, helping me raise money to pay hospital bills. Accidents like this bring out stories. People hear, ‘Oh, you had a crash? Well here’s my story.’ That’s why we’re social creatures; understanding that someone can empathetically relate helps us get through.”
Goat, who has gone by that name for over two decades, maintains a positive outlook. “I obviously went through discouraging stages, but those aren’t me. They’re just thoughts.”
He explained that he doesn’t see himself as a victim. “Life’s dangerous and none of us are getting out of here alive. I would rather enjoy it than be afraid of it.”
While he continues to work toward specific goals, Goat holds an open mind and heart toward the future. “I can’t project into the future. If I focus on only one path, that creates limits. I’ll fly again. When? I don’t know. That’s part of the adventure. Why would I want to know the end of the book while I’m still in it?”
Proud of you, Goat👏😉
And thank you, Lydia, and Sentinal staff for such an uplifting as well as down to earth story