Catching up with… Lonnie Bissonnette

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When life wants to crush you and you refuse to get crushed…

Lonnie at the 2017 Para Bobsled World Cup,
photo by Girts Kehris

Some would say Lonnie needs no introduction in our community. An extreme sports Canadian athlete, Lonnie was a skydiver and an avid base jumper until 2004 when a tragic base accident left him paralysed.

He was doing a special jump from Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho for his 1100th base jump. Things went wrong, as they sometimes do in a sport where the price for small mistakes can be incredibly high and Lonnie was paralysed from the chest down. He recovered as much as possible and he started his new life in a wheelchair hearing all the time doctors and others say “You will never jump again”. Well… the man proved a bit stubborn, to say the least. 

His story after the accident is a tale of victory of the human spirit. His latest feat happened some weeks ago when he won the Para-Bobsleigh World Cup for the fourth time… We were very happy Lonnie found the time to talk with us…


Wheelchair BASE jump off the tallest bridge in the world at that time
for its grand opening ceremony, China, 2012

How many jumps did you have before the accident?

My accident happened on my 1,100th BASE jump. At the time I also had about 1,600 skydives

Why did you decide to go back and jump from the Perrine Bridge 10 years after the accident?

From the moment I woke up out of intensive care I said I would go back to the bridge when the time was right. After talking with a friend one day that it had been more than 9 years it just clicked in my head! I thought what better way/time to go back! I could celebrate my 10-year anniversary by going back and slaying the dragon. So I started making plans to go back and jump it exactly 10 years to the day!

The time felt right… to be able to do that jump, look back up at the bridge and say: “Screw you! You didn’t get me! I’m still here!””

Life’s a Journey
Lonnie’s story, becoming the first paraplegic to jump from all 4 BASE objects

You are the World’s first paraplegic to jump from all 4 objects in BASE. Which were they and how was the experience? 

It all started with the need to do ONE more jump to prove to myself that the sport didn’t beat me, or that I didn’t give up. So I chose to jump a 500ft antenna that’s close to my home. I chose an antenna because that was the first object I jumped when I started BASE, and I thought it would be fitting to finish with an antenna. After 3hrs of pulling myself up the antenna I couldn’t go any more and it was beginning to get light out so I jumped from 300 feet.

After that first jump back I decided to redo all the objects in BASE in the same order I did them the first time. Next was a 420ft building, then Bridge Day for my span, and finally a little 108ft cliff for my earth. The other objects I had done many jumps from prior to the accident so they felt familiar, but the Earth was the only spot I hadn’t jumped before the accident and it was pretty low so that one I was pretty nervous about. It was a site I had wanted to jump before so I felt it was the perfect way to finish off the objects.

Wheelchair skydive at Parachute of Toronto, 2019
Photo by Ivan Rusev

Why did you decide to make a skydive with the wheelchair?

The idea to jump with the chair came from the mental struggle of being in the chair. In the beginning I hated the wheelchair and what it represented to me. One day I thought if I could somehow jump with the wheelchair maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much. I figured there was no way the wheelchair could diminish my love for the sport, but maybe if I could use it to jump the sport could help me accept the wheelchair a little better, and not hate it so much.

Under the canopy during a wheelchair skydive at Parachute of Toronto, 2019
Photo by Ivan Rusev

What were the technical difficulties of that jump and how did you solve them?

I went to work on building a strap system with a cutaway, and a recovery parachute for the wheelchair in case I had to cut it away. Spent lots of time in a hanging harness sorting out the details of how to get the wheelchair in the optimal landing position, as well as emergency procedures.      

What equipment do you jump now, and why?

 I still jump the same equipment I always jumped. I know the gear so I see no reason to change it. For my BASE gear I have a 280 Ace and my skydiving gear I have a 136 Jedi and a second set of gear with a Sabre2 

Lonnie landing his canopy,
photo by Charles Fitzpatrick

Favorite place to jump?

My favourite jump is hard to nail down to just one. I’ve been so lucky to jump lots of amazing objects, but some of my top favourites would be Angel Falls, Quebec Dam, Malaysia, China

What’s your favorite skydiving and BASE moment of all time?

My favourite skydiving moment would be winning the 4-way nationals in ’95, and my favourite BASE moment would be that first jump back after the accident

Wheelchair BASE jump front flip at the New River Gorge Bridge WV 2010,
photo by Bryan Rapoza 

What advice do you have for ‘baby’ BASE jumpers?

Best advice I can think of is to take your time. Objects will always be there, don’t rush take your time and enjoy every step along the journey. Cherish the moments you get to spend with your friends beyond the jumps. 

BASE jumping gave me a release. Everything is just so pure for that split second when you step off into nothing”

What’s the biggest single thing we could do to improve safety in skydiving or BASE?

Education is the single biggest thing we can do, unfortunately it doesn’t always help. Even with all the education we still make the same mistakes we’ve been making for decades. The fact is our sports are dangerous, and when you fuck up the consequences are severe most times

Photo credit Viesturs Lacis/IBSF

In 2019 you won the Para Sport World Championships and the Para World Cup for Bobsleigh. How did you get into Bobsleigh?

I had been part of the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay and had just finished rolling for over a month on the road during January and February covering 870 miles. On my last day someone asked me if I’d like to try bobsleigh and being the kind of guy who rarely turns down an opportunity I said, HELL YEAH! I took the pilot school to learn to drive and the rest as they say is history. I immediately fell in love with the sport!! It has so many similarities to skydiving and BASE jumping! The dirtdiving, the high speeds, having to make small adjustments on the fly… and we steer the bobsled the same as a parachute, two ropes with handles!

Describe yourself in 5 words or less.

Passionate, stubborn, tenacious, compassionate 

Photo credit Viesturs Lacis/IBSF

Whom do you admire, who are your mentors?

 I never really had mentors, I just constantly pushed myself to be better in skydiving, and I taught myself to BASE jump. Although I admire anyone who has a passion and refuses to give up. 

Do you have a motto, or favorite quotation? 

NEVER GIVE UP!! 

Wheelchair BASE jump off the WTC in Columbo Sri Lanka,
photo by Devon Steigerwald

I’m just a guy who is too stupid or too stubborn to quit”

What’s your pet hate?

Biggest pet peeve is people who bullshit.

What was the biggest breakthrough of your life?

Biggest breakthrough decision was to start skydiving. It showed me that everyone needs to have a passion in life. No matter what that passion is, be it skydiving or gardening, find your passion and then pursue it and do it as much as you can!

The Para Bobsleigh podium at the 2020 World Cup,
photo by Girts Kehris 

What’s next for you Lonnie?

We just finished the 2020 World Cup season for Para Bobsleigh and I won the overall title again. I’m on a 2 weeks break then we have the World Championships. After that I’ll switch gears back into jumping mode. I’m hoping to do some more demo jumps this year. I had the honour of jumping onto a golf course last year with my wheelchair and the response was incredible. 

What advice would you give to someone that had a similar accident with yours?

Life sucks sometimes, your life will be different, but it’s not over! ANYTHING you want to do you can do it! It won’t be easy, but it’ll definitely be worth the effort! Accomplishing something out of the ordinary, or something people didn’t think was possible in a wheelchair is an AWESOME feeling! It’s like, fuck you I’m still here!!!

… everyone needs to have a passion in life. No matter what that passion is, be it skydiving or gardening. Find your passion and then pursue it and do it as much as you can!”

Still flying – Lonnie Bissett returns to the site of his accident to jump again

You can follow Lonnie’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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Meet: Andreea Pistea

Andreea started skydiving at 16 years old and the step between hobby and passion was almost immediately made. Nothing changed in the years that passed.
She is a USPA coach, AFF Instructor, Multiple World Record holder in big-ways and former captain of Romanian TNT 4-way team. Andreea enjoys FS, wingsuiting and freefly.

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