Gabriella Down from Milton Keynes will be representing Team GB in this year’s Paralympic Games in Wheelchair Fencing.
Team GB athlete Gabriella Down, today had a unique flying lesson courtesy of Freedom In The Air (FITA) and Variety, The Children’s Charity and its Variety At Work scheme, which provides disabled people with unique and memorable experiences. Gabriella flew in a specially-adapted Piper PA28 (G- RIZZ) which is fitted with Vision Air hand control, allowing her to fly the plane using just her hands.
FITA has accessible aeroplanes that can teach disabled students using hand controls from the basic PPL to the CPL / IR and even flight instructor level.
At just 13 years old, Gabriella Down, from Milton Keynes, will take her place in the Team GB Wheelchair Fencing Squad at the London Paralympics 2012. Despite her age, she is a highly accomplished fencer and is currently ranked as the British Junior No. 1 in both the Foil and Epee classifications. In 2011 she became the youngest Wheelchair Fencer to attend the Senior World Cup Events and is now ranked nationally amongst Senior competitors as the British No.6 for Foil and No.7 for Epee.
Gabriella said of her FITA experience “This was an experience of a lifetime! FITA and Variety, The Children’s Charity, have provided me with a much needed break from training and given me the opportunity to do something I didn’t think I’d ever be able to accomplish.”
FITA is a unique and not-for-profit aviation Community Interest Company, committed to broadening horizons for people with disabilities by empowering them to fly higher socially, physically and professionally. Founder Gautam Lewis was inspired to set up FITA and show people that disability isn’t a barrier to achievement after he was abandoned as a baby, after contracting polio, and was taken to Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. He got his pilots licence through the support of Cranfield Flying School then set up FITA.
Gautam Lewis said, “It’s important to do something positive to support people with disabilities to help them learn new skills and boost their confidence. Gabriella has already pushed herself to be the best in her field and FITA wanted to give her the opportunity to spread her wings even more.”
Keith Andrews, Variety’s Chief Barker, went on to say “We are very proud of Gabriella’s achievements, as we are of all the athletes supported by Variety. We wish to continue to support them in achieving their goals.”
Variety has supported 55 disabled athletes over the past two years; helping to fund their training, travel and accommodation costs.