A local paraglider, Martin Kempf from Menzingen, along with fellow paraglider Thomas Zimmermann from Meggen in the canton of Lucerne, is to compete in a paragliding race to Girona in Spain against a third participant, Stefan Keller from Solothurn, who is a paraplegic.
While the two able-bodied competitors will be combining paragliding and walking, Keller will be making his way by paraglider and wheelchair.
The idea behind the race is to make sure Solothurn, the capital of the canton of the same name, becomes the most wheelchair-friendly cantonal capital of Switzerland with the fewest barriers impeding the way of disabled people.
It was in 2013 that Keller was involved in a 20-meter fall which left the now 56-year-old wheelchair-bound, not that this prevented him from continuing to paraglide, which he had done before that fateful day.
If you want to take part in a race, then naturally it is important you have competitors and Keller found these in his friends Kempf and Zimmermann, all three setting of this coming Saturday on the 700-kilometre journey to Spain.
“Had I had a choice, I would not have chosen Keller as a competitor,” confessed 49-year-old Kempf. However, he hopes to be able to complete the journey within 14 days, too. “The route is not an easy one, with some parts of it being flat over a long distance. This is when Keller will have the advantage, being able to use a wheelchair,” he said, knowing his disabled friend can cover 40 kilometres in two and a half hours in this way, whereas walking, Kempf would cover between10-13 kilometres only in this time. However, the pedestrian competitors have the advantage when it comes to reaching a paragliding launch site; and finding a landing space should be easier for them, too.
All three competitors are being supported on the way by helpers following in cars, with Kempf’s helpers in a campervan where he will be able to spend the nights. The good thing is it is up to his helpers to get to where he has landed, not for him to find his supporters. Keller, on the other hand, will be spending nights in hotels.
Among the logistical difficulties is the fact that the exact route cannot be determined in advance as they are dependent, of course, on prevailing winds and thermals.
Kempf is no newcomer when it comes to paragliding, having undertaken 750 flights already, including one from the top of the 19,340’- high Mount Kilamanjaro in Tanzania (photograph). While he practised a lot gliding down from the 5,897’- high Rigi last year, he has less experience of the Pyrenees. “The only thing you can do is remain flexible and adapt to the prevailing conditions,” he said.
Anyone wanting to follow his progress on this journey can do so live via www.weissenstein-girona.ch.
This article is based one by Carmen Rogenmoser.