For 25 year old Montana born Joe Stone, nothing compares to the feeling of flying. His method of choice – paragliding. And he was pretty good at it too. After watching a few YouTube videos, he thought the time had come to teach himself how to barrel roll.
“But I couldn’t have been more wrong… After a week of doing these manoeuvres I finally made the right combination of mistakes.”
Part of his wing collapsed. Joe spiralled down, and crashed into the mountain, hard. Luckily two men hiking nearby saw what happened and came to Joe’s rescue.
”I just figured if your legs don’t work, life’s over, I’d rather be dead...Joe StoneLearning To Fly Again
“The stars were aligned that day for sure.”
The impact of the crash left Joe with four broken ribs, a laceration to his liver and eight broken vertebrae throughout his neck and back. The severity and complexity of his injuries meant Joe spent almost a month in a coma. When he awoke he found himself inside a nightmare, an incomplete C7 quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down.
“I just figured if your legs don’t work, life’s over, I’d rather be dead… At that time, if you’d asked me, I would have said, I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a nursing home.”
Joe soon realised his injury was so much more than him not being able to use his legs.
“If all it was, was actually just not being able to move a certain muscle, then that would be easy. I didn’t realise it came was all the secondary stuff, the bowel and bladder issues, the sexual function issues, blood pressure issues.”
Joe found himself wallowing, focusing on the past and all the things he loved that he could no longer do.
“Like being able to stand in the clean water of the rivers in Montana and just feel the water running over my feet while I’m fly fishing.”
But then he stumbled across the film Murder Ball and discovered it was possible for him to lead a happy and fulfilling life. He started figuring out how to use his body, and to become more independent. This was all the motivation Joe needed and so he started setting goals.
“Because now I know it’s doable. Now, I know it’s attainable, it was up to me at that point, right. There’s no reason why I couldn’t other than whether or not I wanted to put in the work.”
The day before the one year anniversary of his accident, he returned from a massive hand cycling trip through Glacier National Park. Despite the up and downs this was the game changer for him.
“It told me that anything I want to do is possible. I might have to figure out how to do it on my own, it might take other people to help me, it might cost more money, but I learned it was possible.”
He kept looking for new challenges and soon discovered that no wheelchair using quadriplegic had ever completed an Iron Man. Joe was hooked on the idea.
“I didn’t have any of the gear and I didn’t have any money for it. That’s one point I really want to get across is I’m not a rich guy, and I didn’t have a bunch of money. I had to find sponsors and find grant funding and do a little fundraising. It wasn’t something that was just handed to me.”
Over two years Joe was able to get the hand cycle he needed and an adapted wetsuit from Eco Hydro Suit which he could put on by himself and allowed him to swim.
The brilliant film It’s Raining, So What documents Joe’s Iron man journey and he hopes it will be for other people what Murder Ball was for him.
”I tried a lot of other different outdoor recreation activities, but nothing grabbed me like flying ever did. I wanted that feeling and passion for life againJoe StoneLearning To Fly Again
“My whole goal was to get this into rehab hospitals so that people can see this film early on after their injuries, then hopefully, it’ll change somebody’s perspective…If it does, it’s 100% successful in my book, and all the hard work was totally worth it.”
Four years went by and still Joe couldn’t stop thinking about flying. He was even dreaming about it at night.
“I tried a lot of other different outdoor recreation activities, but nothing grabbed me like flying ever did. I wanted that feeling and passion for life again”
It wasn’t until Joe was contacted by Chris, founder of Project Airtime who planted the seed that flying might be a possibility again.
“You know, I’ll fully admit the hardest part of all of that for me was telling my mom about the fact that I was going to get back into flying. For me personally there wasn’t a lot of fear. I knew it’s what I wanted to do. And I knew I was going to be a better pilot because of what I had gone through.”
Project Airtime had a specially built ‘trike’ set up for Joe that he could fly solo in, and so far there’s nothing Joe has found he can’t do in this chair.
At the time of his accident, if Joe hadn’t been so physically fit, the doctors told him he would not have survived his injuries. Retaining a healthy body has been extremely important – to Joe it’s like an investment in his body. He found switching to a vegan diet did wonders to his health, allowing him to stop taking the bowel medication he was taking. He now has a very consistent routine, which cut the time he spent in the bathroom in half.
As for the future, Joe plans to be on the road for the next year or two, in his little five by ten hiker trailer, with all his gear. He’s on a mission of water, dirt and air and will share his experience by speaking to groups and companies as he goes.
Something Joe always tells people is that you have to search for something to find happiness.
“You may not know what it is in the beginning, but if you start doing research and trying new ways to do the old things you used to do, you’ll eventually find something that’s going to grab you.”
If you’d rather listen than read…
Listen to the Podcast with Joe Stone now.