Paraplegic Craig Hairston Says There’s No Handicapped Parking Space At the Starting Line of a Drag Race

Meet Craig Hairston: Drag racers, parachute jumper, and scuba diver. He's also a paraplegic.

Meet Craig Hairston: Drag racers, parachute jumper, and scuba diver. He's also a paraplegic.

Editor’s Note: The last place you expect to see a paraplegic is inside a racecar, often running well over 100 mph and competing against able-bodied racers. But that’s exactly where you’ll find 58-year old Craig Hairston of Blythewood, South Carolina. If you know the man, you won’t be surprised at all. Before his automobile accident in 1979, he was a 100-percent adrenaline junky who enjoyed skydiving, scuba diving and especially motocross racing. His love of speed easily would pass all boundaries of what many would call normal. He also decided after his accident that his wheelchair never would define him. As he says today with a smile on his face, “There’s no handicapped parking space at the starting line of a drag race.”  Part 1 of a 4-part series.

One of my greatest thrills after my injury was my first free-fall jump from 10,000 feet. I was sitting in the doorway of the airplane with a parachute I’d borrowed from one of the jump schools. The chute had hand controls that would allow me to steer the parachute after the chute opened. When I got over the jump zone, I simply rolled-out the door and started to fall. And, there it was – that same adrenaline rush that I had loved so much when I was able-bodied before my auto accident.

With that much air flowing around me, I never thought about my being a paraplegic. My first thought was, “Ok, I’ve got to get my body stabilized.” My lower legs were flying-up behind me, but I finally got in a stable position and stopped myself from tumbling. I enjoyed the scenery, as I watched the earth come-up to meet me.

Skydiving isn't Craig's only elevated pursuit. He also flies a paraplane that is customized for his paraplegia.

Skydiving isn't Craig's only elevated pursuit. He also flies a paraplane that is customized for his paraplegia.

Then I realized I needed to concentrate on pulling the ripcord and begin to focus on the lake in north Texas where I would land. Because I had fractured my hip during the automobile accident, I had decided to do a water landing instead of a ground landing. Then when I hit the water, my legs wouldn’t have to absorb the impact that they would have had to take if I’d landed on the ground.

Besides, I was a very-strong swimmer. I knew I wanted to land in the water but close enough to the shore, so I wouldn’t have to make a long swim. On the lake, there were other jumpers in a boat who were there to help me if I had a problem, once I hit the water.

I guided my chute to within 100 yards of the bank, and then I hit the water. The parachute I was wearing had a quick-disconnect system, so when I popped the clamps, I came out of my parachute harness. I then started treading water and yelled, “Yee-haw,” to my friends to let them know I was alright and had made a safe landing. I started to swim, but before I got to shore, the boat pulled alongside me.

Once I got into the boat, I had this tremendous rush of emotion and thought to myself, “I am capable of doing anything. I’m not limited in what I can do.” I knew I could set goals and participate in many of the adventure sports that I had done before the accident.

Craig soaring the friendly skies in his paraplane.

Craig soaring the friendly skies in his paraplane.

So, I made myself a bucket list of things I wanted to do. I wanted to go scuba diving again, I wanted to make more jumps from an airplane, and I wanted to get back into racing, although I didn’t know how to, because I knew I couldn’t ride my motocross bike anymore.

Craig Hairston Jumps Into Scuba Diving
Before the accident and even after the accident, I’d always been a good swimmer. So, returning to scuba diving and the freedom it would give me was really important. While scuba diving, the neutral buoyancy (no limitations due to gravity), took-away most of my limitations when I was underwater.

Underwater I had the ability to explore and move-around about 90 percent as well as I could, if I were able-bodied. I wore really-big, powerful swim fins, before my accident. However, because of the limitations of my lower body, after the accident, I chose to wear smaller fins and swam using a true dolphin kick, bending at my waist and using my arms more. I noticed I couldn’t move-through the water as quickly as I could before, but I was capable of scuba diving.

My first dive after the accident was down to 80-to 100-feet deep. Although our bottom time was only 15 to 18 minutes, the reef we dove on was absolutely beautiful. I thought to myself when I was down there, “I’ve done this before, and now I’m capable of doing it after my accident.”

Craig will tell you that participating in adventure sports all about finding the process that works for your body.

Craig will tell you that participating in adventure sports all about finding the process that works for your body.

That was such a satisfying feeling when I realized I could do many of the same things I could before my injury. I needed to prove to myself, not to anyone else, that I still could do the high-adventure sports I’d always loved. I realized after I got hurt that I was in a brand-new situation. I didn’t know what abilities I had left. So, I was on a quest to discover what I still could do.

Many people wanted to tell me, because I was paraplegic, what I couldn’t do. But I wanted to learn what I could do. I didn’t want my disability to tell me, “You can’t go scuba diving again, jump out of an airplane or free-fall.”

I decided that all I had to do was figure-out the process I needed to adapt equipment to my changed body. I made the decision that my wheelchair wouldn’t define me. I needed to prove to myself that by adapting I still could do most of what I once had done before I was injured.

Next: Craig Hairston Recalls the Accordion-Looking Car Resulting from His Accident

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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One Response to Paraplegic Craig Hairston Says There’s No Handicapped Parking Space At the Starting Line of a Drag Race

  1. Amir Kafafy says:

    I got the chance to meet with Craig in person, so I am not surprised at all he is super intelligent guy with incredible sense of humor. But from now on he is not only the funny guy with very high spirit he will also be inspirative to me. Thank you Craig, and many thanks to the article writer.

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