Michael and The Murf

"A shoulder of strength at a time of need"
Michael Glen, Worlds First Paraplegic Hot Air Balloon Pilot

​If you look in the dictionary it will tell you that the definition of friendship is a state of being friends; friendly relation, or attachment, to a person, or between persons; affection arising from mutual esteem and good will; friendliness; amity; That all sounds nice, but it doesn’t cover the fact that a true friendship is a relationship that can survive the test of time and remain unconditional regardless where in the world each side is. 

With all I have gone through up to now, with my illness, having a very strong friendship bond has been vital to me. I have some amazing and genuine friends out there, this has been unquestionably assured in multiples over the past number of weeks, no surer thing. However, in this particular blog, this story involves what I consider to be a beautiful essay, with one Michael Glen and one Murf and one which I would like to share with you now. 

When I got told my bad news about my stomach tumour, my first hurdle was how the hell am I going to figure all this out ? on my own ? 
You see, this is a solo run, it simply cannot be untangled like a ballooning rope knot by somebody else, because it IS you. My mind immediately flashed to my good friend Michael Glen in Chandler, Arizona. Under my assigned duress, I decided to immerse myself in what I preceived Michael had to do, to initially balance his own trauma. A different scenario but still a major dilemma. My issue was certainly on a different dimension, but I knew it's a special type of mindset that deals with it. For this reason, Michael and by default his family were given my horrible news immediately after my own family here. I felt very guilty typing the text. But I knew in my heart of hearts I would get absolutely rock solid tenure back. It was the start of a new outlook, and why wouldn't it be. We both appear to share a very common mindset. 

Michael was involved in a single car roll-over accident a number of years ago. In an instant, in the click of a finger if you wish, he had permanently lost the use of both his legs. Spring forward a number of years later to 2006 and this Arizona based life loving, challenge besting person became the worlds first paraplegic hot air balloon pilot. Myself at the age of 4 had lost the entire sight of my right eye permanently. Call it a small world or what, but our two paths were destined to cross and indeed they did !

It was in a field near Trim Castle, in County Meath, a number of years ago. Two giant special shape bumble bee Hot Air Balloons made an appearance. Their presence, to promote the Trim Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. I met and became good friends with owner and chief pilot of the bee's, 
Bob Romaneschi. These big shapes were on their first tour of Ireland. While helping Bob with crewing in Trim, I was fascinated by the ballooning stories he was telling me. But one name he spoke very fondly about just kept coming back, 'Michael Glen'. I just knew from chatting to Bob, I had to meet this Michael Glen fella. 

Michael Glen, gets his kicks from seeing
 that other person smile and knowing that he put it there. 

A few years later and this time it's my turn to walk across another field but this one is not a field in Trim, but a bit further away, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I just arrived at the largest and most photographed Hot Air Ballooning event on earth. I spotted Michael in action, rigging and inflating his own custom hot air balloon 'Elevation II'. He would then invite an able bodied person to sit in the seat beside him, strap on and both paraplegic pilot and his special guest would graciously lift off and sail serenely into the New Mexico sunrise in Michaels aerostat. What a sight to behold. This was magic. Over the course of the weeks festivities at this global event I got to hang out with Michael. I wanted to see, I needed to see, what makes this guy tick for his tock ?
It was so simple, it was beautiful. Michael likes seeing smiles on other people's faces and then knowing that he and his crew put them there. If I may be so bold to say it, here's a chap that's hopelessly addicted to the same weakness I have and there's no cure, for either of us. LOL. 

Murf and Michael, a long way to Tipperary?
Photo: © Brian Meegan

Over the following months and indeed years, the serial interaction of Murf and Michael grew closer.  Sharing suggestions and ideas especially when I took the notion to get my own wheelchair basket. This happened when local Dunshaughlin lad Jack Kavanagh had his accident abroad which ended up with young Jack losing the use of both his legs and having only limited movement in his hands and wrists. It wasn't long before Jack was aboard my new wheelchair basket and gone lighter than air. 

Airtime with The Kavanagh's
Father and and son fly together. 

 Ironically, it was from me seeing the unreal fun that Michael, a paraplegic pilot could and would share and bring to fruition with an able bodied person, that gave me the weird confidence if you like, to quiet literally invert this scenario where I could fly a paraplegic person instead. What a brilliant twist and one which I knew had to work. I already had a cracking flight crew in place, no question. 

When hot air balloon paraplegic pilot no 2 in the world came along, in the guise of ex RAF Harrier Pilot, Tim Ellison, I took it upon myself to fly out to Pahrump in Nevada, in the USA to bear witness to  these two unstoppables meeting up and flying together for the first time, leaving both their wheelchairs lonesomly behind on terra-firma. Of course it was more fun for me as I never told Michael I was flying over to the US to notate all this in the first place..Love It !!

Flying my first quadriplegic wheelchair user, Stephen Cluskey, 
a powerhouse advocate for wheelchair accessibility.  
Press: © Meath Chronicle Newspaper

So over the course of the last number of years, both Michael and myself would have the fun, the craic (as we say here in Ireland) and indeed the laugh. If we are not meeting up at a US based ballooning event, doing FaceTime or winding each other up over social media or iMessage, one thing I would like to attest and solomoly swear to:




"I'm proud, privileged and extremely humbled to have a friend like Michael Glen and then to bring it one step higher, (pun intended) to be that extra part of sharing his idea of what fun in the air is all about, and in a wheelchair? Even better !!! "

Thanks for reading my blog tonight. 




Click the link above to play a short film which features Michael


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