From the front page of the Melbourne Herald Sun, January 4, 2013.
Read the original article here
FOR many it would be mission impossible – a voyage on a wing and a prayer.
But Victorian Dave Jacka says his bid to become the first quadriplegic in the world to fly solo around Australia is more a case of On A Wing and A Chair.
His aptly named journey, which will see him fly 16,000km around the Australian coastline with his wheelchair in tow, aims to show others that a disability does not define you.
Mr Jacka’s injuries were inflicted when his motorbike slammed into a tree. The then 19-year-old was left with paralysed lower limbs.
He suffered injuries to his fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae – C5 was an incomplete injury, which means he retained some shoulder, wrist and bicep control, but no use of his triceps and fingers.
“But one of the hardest things to come to terms with after the accident was not knowing what your life will be like.”
Most of the people he met who had similar injuries were literally confined to a wheelchair.
On a wing and a chair: Dave Jacka is aiming to be the first quadriplegic in the world to fly solo around Australia. Picture: Tony Gough
“Doctors said if I was lucky I might even be able to drive a car again, but at the time no one with quadriplegia even worked.”
Lance-Corporal Albert Jacka, he is not short on determination.
Now 44, he has taught himself to eat, get dressed and, after several years practising, even learnt how to get in and out of bed on his own.
“Your goals start out small but the more you achieve, the bigger they get,” he said.
Dave Jacka in hospital following a motorbike crash that left him a quadriplegic.
“For me one of the greatest challenges was learning to get out of the wheelchair and into the bed and into and out of the car on my own – that gave me my independence back.
“It took me 10 years to get my life back.”
Soon he wanted to fly.
“It was a real struggle to get anyone to teach me,” he said. “They didn’t think I could do it because I was highly disabled and I was too much of a liability.”
Dave Jacka takes to the air to practice for his upcoming mission.
Eventually one flying instructor agreed.
The challenges didn’t stop there.
Then he had to design special controls that allowed him to fly solo in the plane, a modified Jabiru J230 aircraft.
He sucks and blows into a tube in his mouth to control the plane’s throttle. “It’s kind of like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time,” he said.
Dave Jacka has not let being a quadriplegic stop him from doing anything. Pictured on his wedding day with wife Linda Sands.
Some of the main switches have been enlarged and moved.
Because he cannot move his feet to control operations functions like the rudder, a lever is used, which he controls by using his wrists.
To control the flaps he twists his wrists, which helps his thumb apply pressure to the button.
Most importantly, the brakes are controlled using a large switch that he flicks up and down with his hand.
After setting off from Tooradin Airfield on April 29, he will spend up to six hours a day flying.
“If it’s rough weather it will be physically exhausting and up the east coast of Australia there is a lot of air traffic to watch out for,” he said. “It’s going to be really mentally tough.”
A support crew will follow him on his journey to ensure his safety.
He set up a charity for the 21-day trip, which he hopes will challenge the way people view those with disabilities.
“A lot of people don’t understand what a person with a disability can do. Most people think all you can do is lick stamps,” he said. “You miss out on opportunities because people won’t give you a go.
“I’m doing it to raise awareness about what people can achieve and try to be a positive inspiration and challenge stereotypes.”
He represented Australia at the 1996 Paralympic Games in wheelchair rugby.
In 2006 he became the first person with quadriplegia in the world to fly a powered hang-glider solo.
But he insists he is nothing special.
“I’m just an average person who never gives up and sticks to their goals,” he said.
“If you are open-minded and determined, the impossible becomes possible.”