Lonnie Bissonnette wheeling off an 1150-foot bridge in China. Lonnie Bissonnette wheeling off an 1150-foot bridge in China. Lonnie Bissonnette wheeling off an 1150-foot bridge in China. (Photo: Facebook)

Paralyzed athlete jumps off cliffs – in a wheelchair!

Canadian dad doesn't let anything stop him from fulfilling his dreams.

Like Tom Cruise in the "Mission Impossible" movies, Lonnie Bissonnette likes to jump off buildings. The Canadian father of two had jumped 1,100 times before a fateful day in 2004 when something went terribly wrong.

His parachute didn't open while jumping off a 486-foot bridge. Bissonnette crashed into the river at about 70 mph, severely breaking several bones in his body, and suffering a spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed. Lucky to have survived that accident, he was told by the doctor that he would never jump again.

"I don't let being paralyzed stop me for one moment," Bissonnette told the Daily Mail. "The first thing I asked after waking up from my accident was, 'How long will I have to wait till I can be back out there base jumping again?'" Remarkably, he was back to flying just a year later thanks, in part, to a specialized wheelchair from a Mediterranean country half a world away.

Several years ago, Israeli farmer and entrepreneur Gilad Wolf broke his leg and found himself confined to a wheelchair. But the chair's wheels couldn't handle the rocky terrain while he was rolling out to check his crops. Wolf figured there must be a better way, and necessity ultimately led to invention. He created the SoftWheel, special shock-absorbing wheels for people who wanted to use a wheelchair for more rugged purposes.

Wolf then turned to fellow Israeli Dror Cohen to become the product specialist and test out the new wheel. Cohen, at the age of 24, became paralyzed in a car accident. "I was a young guy with a lot of ambition," Cohen told From the Grapevine. "One second, you're on top of the world, and the next you're in a rehab learning how to go to the bathroom. Even now, I've learned to live with my accident, but I don't think I can ever fully embrace it."

But embrace it he did. An avid outdoorsmen before his accident, Cohen became a Paralympic athlete. At the 2004 Games in Athens, he won a gold medal for the Israeli sonar sailing class team. More recently, he competed in the Rio Olympics.

Dror Cohen rappellingDror Cohen loves competition and extreme sports, and he doesn't let paralysis hold him back. (Photo: Courtesy)

The SoftWheel technology is just the latest in a string of Israeli inventions that have helped paralyzed athletes regain their mobility. German Paralympic cyclist Denise Schindler had an Israeli R&D lab create a special 3D-printed artificial limb for her to use in Rio this summer. Meanwhile, another Israeli company called ReWalk has helped countless people all over the world walk again – including a paralyzed South Carolina man who ran a 10K race earlier this year.

As for Bissonnette, he credits the SoftWheel and sheer grit for allowing him to continue his dream. "If I want to do something I'll do it, and this was no different," he said. "Base jumping is my life and I was going to keep doing it no matter what. It's one of the most amazing things you can experience."


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