Torrance Johnson had just one word to describe his ride: “Fantastical.”
At first, the helicopter was shaky but then steadied as it reached its peak height at 1,000 feet. Besides, his mom was more scared than he was, Johnson said.
Torrance, 15, is one of five participants living with disabilities who were selected for free helicopter rides Tuesday through the D-MAN Foundation’s Assisted Travel Program. Four of the participants, including Johnson, are quadriplegic.
“Because he doesn’t get to do a lot, and for him to find something that he could do and that he’s excited about, it’s huge,” said his mother, Katrina Johnson of Detroit, watching employees from the foundation lift Torrance into the helicopter.
Born with type two spinal muscular atrophy, a terminal disease, Torrance has spent his life confined to his electric wheelchair. However, this hasn’t stopped him from accomplishing more than the average teenager: he has written a book, does motivational speaking, met Michelle Obama — just to name a few of his achievements.
“It had a (big) impact on what I can do from this chair, especially when I look at people who aren’t in this chair who haven’t been up there,” Torrance said, reflecting on his 45-minute helicopter ride. “Anyone can be on an airplane, but a helicopter, that’s something different.”
The helicopter rides Tuesday are just one of the adventures the D-MAN foundation offers those with mobile and cognitive disabilities. Past opportunities have included swimming with dolphins, riding in vintage cars during the Woodward Dream Cruise, and trips to Florida.
“We want to show what abilities they have, not what disabilities they have,” said Lexus Kejbou, executive director of the nonprofit. “We like to give them a different experience, something that they’ve never experienced before, to be able to sit in the front seat for once and experience the little things we usually take for granted.”
Tuesday’s excitement came just at the right time for the Johnson family. Last week, Torrance faced some bullying at school from his classmates who circulated a photo of him with mean comments. While Katrina was rightfully upset and determined to get to the bottom of it, Torrance reminded her that some people are just ignorant — a fact he has at the forefront of his mind and will keep for the rest of his life.
From 1,000 feet in the air, the two were able to enjoy the breeze and gain some perspective.
“Everything is so small, makes you think,” Katrina said.
Contact Miriam Marini: [email protected]