The ultimate freedom for Dr Georgina Johnston of UQ VETS Equine Specialist Hospital is to soar in her paraglider.
“I had always been attracted to the idea of paragliding so, about three years ago, I decided to learn. I took a 10-day licensing course at Manilla, near Tamworth in NSW, and became a paraglider pilot. It’s a heart-in-mouth moment the first time you run towards the edge of a cliff and take off.
“There are specific places to fly in Australia and all flights must be logged. All paraglider pilots need to be a member of a club—I’ve joined the Canungra Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club on the Gold Coast in Queensland. It’s very social and they are a great bunch of people.
“Paragliding is an extremely weather-dependent sport. The wind has to be blowing from the right direction and not be too strong or too light. It also can’t be raining. The area around Mt Borah, near Tamworth in NSW, is one of my favourite places for cross-country flying. It can be a real challenge both mentally and physically. Finding thermals and deciding the best direction to take is a skill that takes many hundreds of hours in the air to master. Paragliders can fly as high as cloud base and it’s very satisfying when you get there!
“In the event of something going wrong, we carry a reserve parachute. Obviously, that’s not much help if you are too close to the ground. A friend of mine had his paraglider torn up by eagles—they’re very territorial birds—and had to use his parachute. Mostly, however, it’s a very safe sport. As with many things, if you don’t take unnecessary risks, are well-prepared and remain level-headed, the likelihood of having an accident is low.
“Paragliding gives me the ultimate sense of freedom. As a vet, I feel like I’ve got a hundred different things buzzing round my head vying for attention. When you’re in the air, you can put everything behind you. You need to be totally in the moment, concentrating fully on what you’re doing, on the elements and how they’re changing. Every time you fly, it’s a different experience.
“Sometimes the air can be a bit rough or the wind can be frustrating. But sometimes everything goes your way and you can just relax and enjoy the view. Ridge soaring along the edge of a mountain with a stunning sunset is my absolute favourite.”