“He highly recommends the Juvent machine, designed by NASA to help with bone growth, and a Biomat he received from Lululemon as priority equipment when rehabbing injuries.”
“The good Lord was like, ‘I’m going to break quite a few things up, but spare you. I’m going to smack you around and give you a good wake-up call.’ “
World-ranked athlete Damien Leroy, of Jupiter, grew up in Vail, Colorado, traveling the world with his ski-racing family. At 19, an Olympic downhill race contender, he injured his knee and moved to Naples, Florida, for rehabilitation.
As with life, when one door closes, another opens.
While walking on the beach one day he saw someone kitesurfing. Fascinated, and in typical Leroy fashion, he set out to learn everything he could about this new sport. Kitesurfing became his passion and when well enough, he returned to Mount Hood, Oregon, to train, but set aside his afternoons for kitesurfing in the Gorge.
“I was trying to come back but never felt the knee was quite right and ski racing was kind of a dark world so I made the switch. I cut racing cold turkey and took on kitesurfing full-tilt,” said Leroy, 35.
As with everything he sets his mind to, the athlete quickly attained world recognition for his kitesurfing abilities and has subsequently been sponsored by such global megacompanies as GoPro, Cabrinha, Lululemon, Runa, SumBum, Lynch, NP Surf and Lift Foils.
Relocating to Florida opened the door to new challenges, something Leroy tends to gravitate toward. When not kitesurfing, he would be diving, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, spearfishing and paragliding, a complete new world from the mountain life he previous led. Having his pilot’s license from a young age, he learned to paraglide with his dad 10 to 12 years earlier but had stopped flying until a few years ago, when he and his friend Harry Andrews got engines and wings.
Paragliding is an inflated canopy over your head that is steered with toggles on both sides. According to Leroy, it is super-safe and very stable and he believes Florida to be one of the safest spots to paraglide in the world because of the steady sea breeze versus the often unstable air and rising air pockets inland. The coast has a consistent breeze that can be relatively easy to predict.
July 11, 2016
Nothing could have prepared Leroy for what happened on the afternoon of July 11, 2016.
Having just returned from traveling and filming an upcoming Hollywood movie (“Baywatch”), Leroy was at the beach with his good friend Jacob Olivier, who was preparing for his first powered paragliding flight. Olivier had been flying for more than a year and according to Leroy is super-talented at everything he tries.
“It was a perfect afternoon with light winds and a great day for him to get started,” recalls Leroy. “He had his first flight that day and I kind of guided him through it and he had an amazing flight. It was the greatest day flying of his life. When he came down, he was like ‘Damien, you should go for a flight now,’ and I was actually just going to pack it up and go home but I said OK. I went up and wasn’t doing anything special. It was just a normal day. I truly treat and respect paragliding like an airplane. Landing is mandatory and taking off is optional. Realistically, it is your life and death when you’re up there.”
As he came out of a turn, the unthinkable happened and his wing stalled. He recalls the engine swinging one way and he the other. He was being spun rapidly so many times, which left him unable to grab the outside lines and manually steer the canopy. When that happens, the flyer is at the mercy of wherever the wing takes him.
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