DUNLAP, Tenn. — St. Louis resident Lindsay Matush was a little girl when she first traveled to Dunlap for hang gliding.
"My father was a hang-gliding pilot," she says. "I grew up on this launch. My very first tandem was with my dad when I was 7 years old."
Among the people watching her take that first running jump off the side of a mountain at the Tennessee Tree Toppers property that day was Dunlap resident Rick Jacob, a hang-gliding enthusiast since the mid-'70s.
Last week, a special event has brought them together again: the Team Challenge, an event that matches an experienced pilot with three less-experienced fliers.
People from around the country and the world brought their hang gliders and paragliders for the event, though rain kept them grounded for much of the time. Friday was the best day for weather, but overcast skies and light winds delayed the start and altered some of the fliers' goals on Saturday, the final day of the event.
Rick Jacob and Dennis Pagan, another local hang-gliding pioneer, came up with the Team Challenge in 1989. Fliers are given a set of coordinates to fly to, based on their ability. Veteran fliers are given the toughest challenges, and their scores count least in the competition. In the early days, pilots took film photos of their goal locations. These days, GPS technology tracks the flights.
Jacob believes mixing skill levels has benefits for all levels of pilots.
"Normal pilots just launch, fly around the launch, and land at the designated landing field,"he said.
Helping teammates reach increasingly difficult goals has been a blessing to him.
"(The previous) Sunday, when I saw my seed pilot at goal, he was so excited. I still had a whole bunch of the course to run, and then the rain shut us down. But to see Tommy ecstatic, it was like I made goal."
Matush said new pilots are unsure about making the goal.
"When you have that more experienced pilot coaching you and helping you get there, you push yourself and you learn new skills. It grows your skills and helps you become a better pilot. It's like having a coach," she said.
Matush and Jacob both flew paragliders, a fabric wing similar to a parachute that they control after making a running jump from a mountain ledge.
Why would someone do such a thing?
"I think it's the magic of flight," Matush said.
"When you run off of that mountain underneath your own wing, you catch a thermal and you are eye-to-eye with a bird or other pilots. You are climbing several thousand feet over where you took off and then you are running out to find the next thermal and landing miles and miles from where you started. You are on an adventure with your wing. It's the powerful experience of flight. Humans have dreamed of flying forever. It's the most incredible thing to experience."
To Jacob, it is a spiritual experience.
"It's an awakening. I can't imagine not doing it," Jacob says. "My heart swells. I see the world from a whole different view than most anybody can. I've taken this magic carpet, and no motor or anything else, and with the blessings that I have had to gain my skills I can climb thousands of feet and fly with the eagles and hawks."