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Festival a first in more ways than one

An additional “first” was associated with this past weekend’s inaugural Pahrump Balloon Festival at Petrack Park.

Michael Glen is part of a southwest family of hot air balloon enthusiasts.

The Roswell, N.M., native, along with his brother Chris, have been involved in ballooning for several decades.

As the son of two school teachers, Bill and Susie, Glen wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps in the sport by earning his pilot’s license.

Those plans were dashed, however, when Glen was involved in a single car rollover that left him paralyzed from the waist down shortly after his 21st birthday in 1996.

Following the accident, Glen began looking into the possibility of becoming a hot air balloon pilot, something he had dreamed of since childhood.

After years of physical therapy, Glen’s determination in becoming a licensed hot air balloon pilot came to fruition.

After overcoming several obstacles and working with Federal Aviation Administration officials, he became the first paraplegic pilot to earn his license back in 2006, roughly 10 years after the accident that changed his life.

Since then, he has piloted his craft in locations far and wide.

On Saturday, Glen made history again. He was joined by another paraplegic balloon pilot from the United Kingdom.

Former Royal Air Force pilot Tim Ellison was left paralyzed after crashing his Harrier jet in 1992.

Ellison passed his General Flight Test last month, becoming the first European paraplegic hot air balloon pilot.

Just after sunrise Saturday both men took to the sky.

It was the first time ever that two paraplegic pilots have flown together in the same balloon.

Glen said Ellison just happened to drop by the event, much to his surprise.

“I actually met him on Friday for the first time. I know he has competed in airplane races in the past. He was in a race from London to Sydney and out of 30 planes he was actually the fastest to cover that distance. He’s more famous for flying airplanes, but a few years ago he decided to start flying balloons.

“He literally got his license about two weeks ago and probably has 10 hours in the balloon. Today, it was his first time to fly with other balloons because he completed his training by himself in Italy. The significance, today was the very first time Tim and me have flown together,” he said.

Additional setbacks also created roadblocks in Glen’s life when he became the victim of a ruthless criminal.

“In October of 2006, I was forced to deal with the theft of my entire balloon system. This was a unique balloon system and there are very few in existence. This theft was devastating considering the financial, spiritual, and physical investment that I have put into becoming a pilot. With perseverance and the support of my family and friends, I am back in the air. I have had some hard times and no matter what has occurred I have pushed through those obstacles, they have made me a stronger person,” he said.

As such, Glen, who nicknamed himself the “Rolling Pilot,” said his dream has always been to spread his message.

Glen has spent several years traveling the country on public speaking tours.

During his time in Pahrump, he took time to visit with students at Manse and J.G. Johnson elementary schools sharing his story of struggle and success.

“If I can make a difference in one person’s life, that’s all that matters for me,” he said.

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