Paraplegic man becomes licensed skydiver

Paraplegic man becomes licensed skydiver

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Patrick  Nichols became the first paraplegic to complete the certification program at Skydive East Tennessee. Patrick Nichols became the first paraplegic to complete the certification program at Skydive East Tennessee.

By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

DANDRIDGE (WATE) - A local paraplegic man broke barriers Sunday, becoming a certified solo skydiver.

Patrick Nichols graduated from the student skydiving program at Skydive East Tennessee in Dandridge.

At Sunday's graduation Nichols became the first paraplegic to complete the certification program at Skydive East Tennessee.

Nichols says he hopes reaching this milestone will teach others about never giving up.

He suited up Sunday for his certification skydive and received some last minute tips about exiting the plane from his instructor.

"You got to be sure and get clear though. Get clear of the door frame. Did you do a gear check?" asked Cory Maples, an instructor at Skydive East Tennessee.

Maples said becoming a licensed skydiver is tough for anyone.

"Patrick's a special case since he's learned to skydive since becoming a paraplegic. It's a whole new ball game," Maples said.

The long road to Sunday's graduation dive began with a dream of a career as a smoke jumper, or firefighters who parachute into forest fires.

A 2005 motorcycle accident left Nichols paralyzed below the waist, ending that hope.

"I went into a turn a little too hot. I low-sided, hit a creek bank at 120 miles per hour, to a dead stop," Nichols said.

A friend finally convinced him to give it another shot, and after his first tandem jump, he was hooked.

Nichols has been training for three years. He says he loves the freedom of the fall.

"It rides you. You got to open up, feel the wind and relax and enjoy the view," he said.

Always an adrenaline junkie, he has decided to not let his injury hold him back.

"Everyone was like, 'Why would you jump out of an airplane,'" Nichols recalls. "It's like why would you not? Just because you're in a wheelchair, that doesn't mean anything really."

To be at the end of this long journey is exciting for everyone involved.

"It's like seeing your baby drive for the first time. You're so proud," said Maples, who has coached Nichols for the full three years.

Maples said it's been an inspiration to everyone who has been able to watch Nichols stick with his goal, no matter what hurdles got in the way.

Nichols flew, straight through the sky, past his limitations.

"He knew this is what he wanted to do and he didn't stop until today. We're going to throw him out for the last time and he's on his own from here on out," Maples said.

Nichols, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, said he is trying to get a program together with the Paralyzed Veterans Association, which would teach other veterans in wheelchairs how to skydive.

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