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Nation's first wheelchair-accessible ballon coming to Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival

  • Serena's Song will offer balloon rides for people with disabilities from Friday through Sunday at Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival.

    Serena's Song will offer balloon rides for people with disabilities from Friday through Sunday at Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival.
    Daily Herald file photo

By Marissa Plescia
updated: 6/28/2018 10:29 AM

When you visit Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival this weekend, you're pretty much guaranteed to see hot-air balloons of all shapes and sizes.

But there's one balloon that will be on display in Community Park near Route 53 and Short Street that's just a little more special.

It's called Serena's Song and it was the nation's first wheelchair-accessible balloon.

The owner, Gary Waldman, and pilot, Phil Gray, tour the country giving people with disabilities the opportunity to fly. This is the 23rd year they'll be at Eyes.

The rides are coordinated through SEASPAR, a special recreation organization that offers an array of services and events for those with disabilities.

"We're kind of like a park district for people with disabilities," Executive Director Matt Corso said. "Our mission is to provide quality, dynamic recreation programs similar to what our member entities provide to their residents."

The balloon is inspired by Waldman's daughter, Serena, who was born in 1984 with cerebral palsy. It was after taking her on a balloon ride when she was little that he came up with the idea for Serena's Song.

The balloon is specially made to provide a more spacious basket with bolts to hold down wheelchairs. The door also folds down and creates a ramp to make it easier to get in and out of the basket.

Morgan Mason, the marketing coordinator for SEASPAR, says the experience people have riding in Serena's Song is almost impossible to market.

"The moment people get off, they want to sign up for the next year," Mason said.

Mason said what makes SEASPAR amazing is that it offers all sorts of experiences that go beyond the norm.

"I have never been on a hot-air balloon until my first year with Serena's Song," Mason said. "These kinds of opportunities they're having are even new to me, so it's really special to be a part of giving them to people who you wouldn't think would have these opportunities. They deserve them, just like we all do."

"The freedom of flight is just something that everybody should experience," Corso said. "And what's cool about the balloon versus being in a plane, is that it's open air. It's a very different experience than being on a plane."

Corso said registration for rides with Serena's Song are all booked, but organizers still take walk-ons at the event.

There is no fee for the balloon rides from 6 to 7:30 a.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday, weather permitting. Each ride takes about 15 minutes.

Serena's Song will take flight just outside the festival grounds and the balloon is accessible without entering Eyes itself.

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