When Trace Boatright was a youngster, about the same age as his 10-year-old son Texas, he had a dream.
“I wanted to know what it would be like to fly through the clouds,” Boatright said. “Now, I know.”
Boatright and his longtime high school friend, T.J. Sawyer, recently started paramotoring, an extreme sport that features a large chute, a 200 cc motor and a pilot with enough grit, guts and gumption to fly through clouds – minus a plane.
“The first time I went through a cloud was amazing,” Boatright said. “I’d flown through clouds in a plane, but you couldn’t feel them or touch them. It took a while to get high enough to fly through a cloud – about the highest I’ve been is 6,000 feet – but once I did it, I couldn’t wait to do it again.
“To feel a cloud, as you’re flying through it is hard to put into words. You really have to experience it to even know what I’m talking about.”
Boatright has been paramotoring for about eight months, Sawyer has been air bound for six or seven.
“We saw some videos of Tucker Gott on YouTube and it was pretty amazing,” said Sawyer, who, like his buddy, is a resident of Independence.
“He’s the best, and his videos are amazing. Once we saw them, we knew we had to get a paramotor glider and start taking lessons.”
They drove to Fowler, Illinois, to take a series of lessons from Mike Mixer of Discover Paragliding, and they were a bit surprised how intense the training was.
“There is no license, or age limit, but you have to take the training to be safe,” Sawyer said, “and it was pretty intense. They train you in a tandem rig, and then, the first time you go up by yourself it’s pretty amazing.
“My entire body was shaking. But once I got off the ground, it was even better than I expected. It was amazing.”
Both paragliders have been on flights that lasted about three hours.
“The machines hold 21/2 gallons of gas, and you can stay in the air about three hours,” Sawyer said, “so you have to pay attention and make sure you have enough gas to make it back home.”
Boatright and Sawyer discovered the perfect place to practice their craft at a private air strip in Lone Jack.
“We saw this air strip and left the owner a note to see if we could paraglide out there, and he’s been amazing,” Sawyer said. "He really seems to enjoy when we come out to his place to practice or fly."
“What’s cool is that the entire air strip is in this big cornfield. The landing area is the only place that doesn’t have corn – and it looks pretty amazing from a thousand feet in the air.”
While the two high school friends are mastering their new sport, Boatright is teaching his son the art of paramotoring.
“To share this with my son makes it even more special,” Boatright said. “We have him hooked up to a chute and he runs around here to get the feel of a takeoff. He hasn’t been in air yet – that’s going to take a while – but he loves to come out and practice with us and watch me and T.J.”
Texas, a fourth grader at Greenwood Christian Church, was unable to make the interview session because he had to attend class.
“I wanted to bring him, but Mom said no,” chuckled Boatright. “I think he’s going to be a good, really good. He’s working hard and he knows all about the safety rules.”
That was apparent when Texas talked about his love of the sport.
“I’m learning how to kite a wing and run with a wing,” said Texas, referring to the running aspect of getting the wing, or chute, open enough to where the rider goes airborne. “I know I have to watch training videos and work hard when I train so I can be safe, but I know my dad wouldn’t let me do it if I wasn’t safe.”
When asked how he felt about sharing this sport with his father, Texas simply said, “I have the coolest dad. All the kids I know think he’s so cool because we go flying without a plane.”
Flying without a plane.
Thinks about that a moment.
“Whether I’m in the air 10 minutes or three hours, it’s the thrill of a lifetime,” Sawyer said. “It’s just you and the sky, and the clouds. When I take off, when I fly, when I land, it’s just the best. Nothing compares to it.”