July 19, 2004
Lonnie Bissonnette is standing on the edge of a bridge 486 feet above from the river gushing beneath. He is with his peers for his 1100th base jump, and it will be a quadruple gainer this time. With his parachute on, he jumps from the bridge. The wind entangled the parachute lines around his legs, and he could not open the parachute in time and collided into the river. This accident broke several bones in his body and led to a spinal cord injury. Fortunately, Lonnie survived the accident after some surgeries. Still, his lower body was paralyzed due to the spinal cord injury, and the doctors told him that he would not be able to jump or walk again. It isn’t the end, though. Lonnie speeds up towards the edge of the ramp in his wheelchair and Whoa! He Jumped again.
Lonnie was back in the sports in less than a year, and he became the first paraplegic to jump from all four BASE (Buildings, Antennae, Span, Earth) in 2006. At present, he is the current world champion and the world’s best para-bobsledder who has won four world cup titles.
Canadian elite extreme athlete Lonnie Bissonnette was one of the most prominent BASE jumpers in the world when he met with the accident. When inquired about his inspirational journey of becoming the world’s first paraplegic to jump from all four BASE, he said, “I had always felt I knew the risks involved in BASE jumping, and I needed to do one more jump to prove to myself that I didn’t give up. After doing that first jump, I knew I needed to continue to pursue my passion for the sport.”
From that day, Lonnie has been continuously pursuing his passion. When the majority would have cursed their lives and got into depression, Lonnie took the driving seat of his life and went to places where even a fully-abled would not dare. He explored many other extreme adventure sports where he could push himself and keep his adrenaline levels high.
In February 2012, he took part in Rick Hansen’s 25th Anniversary endurance wheelchair relay. However, not satisfied, he requested the organizing committee to let him wheel one more leg of the relay. With no practice before the relay, keeping his spirits high, he wheeled 1350 km in less than a month from Winnipeg to Calgary. When asked about his passion, he said, “I am passionate about living my life to fullest.”
One day he came across bobsledding. It is a team sport played on an ice track in which the participants go sliding down the narrow and curvy track in a sled. Lonnie described his experience after participating in bobsledding as “The very first run I went down the bobsled track, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing, this is so cool, it felt exactly the same way as it did the first jump I made, the first skydive I made. I was hooked immediately.”
The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation(IBSF) was officially granted the status of IPC recognized International Federation for Para Bobsleigh and Para Skeleton in May 2014. IBSF organized the first official Para Bobsleigh World Cup in March 2016, in Park City, United States. Para Bobsleigh was listed for inclusion in the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Winter Games. However, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) scrapped these proposals, citing fewer competitors participating in the sport.
The para-bobsledding roster for 2019-20 season by the IBSF includes just 33 sledders from 17 different nations.
Lonnie is trying to recruit more players in the sport to get it in 2026 Paralympics. He mentions that people’s fear of getting injured again makes it hard to invite them to the game. But he is adamant in his quest to take the sport to 2026 Paralympics and is working hard to achieve it.
With competitors younger than his kids and no viable funding for the game, Lonnie is still striving for his passion at the age of 55. His son helps him finance his travels. He aims to win the inaugural gold medal of the sport after taking it to the Paralympics.
By showing that anything is possible, Lonnie describes the perfect example of determination, courage, openness, and never giving up.