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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Iraq War veteran Gordon Ewell takes off while paragliding as part of "Wings of Inspiration", an even created by Mike Semanoff to allow wounded and disable veterans to experience the thrill of flight, at the Point of the Mountain in Draper, Saturday June 7, 2014. Mark Rich, left, and Sam Sanderson give him a helpful push.
Utah’s blue skies smile at servicemen as they paraglide
Military » As thanks for their service, they were treated to paragliding.
First Published Jun 07 2014 02:25 pm • Last Updated Jun 08 2014 01:07 pm

Lehi • Gordon Ewell was "blown up," as he puts it, six times.

In Iraq, the former Army master sergeant’s job was to hunt for bombs. Six times, he was in vehicles that were blown apart or hit by them. It took 49 specialists in three states six years to put him back together.

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For a time, he couldn’t eat solid food or walk.

But on Saturday, he soared.

He, along with other veterans and active military men, paraglided through clear, blue skies at the Point of the Mountain in Lehi as part of a Wings of Inspiration event meant to thank them for their service.

"What he does is instill a sense that you can do anything, even broken and disabled," Ewell said of the event’s organizer, Army veteran Mike Semanoff.

Ewell, who lives in Eagle Mountain, said he never would have dreamed of paragliding before he was injured, let alone afterward.

"I can tell people: ‘Don’t give up. Guess what I did.’ " Ewell, 47, said of paragliding.

Semanoff, who works in public relations and owns a paragliding company, began offering rides to veterans last year through his organization Inspiration RX. Semanoff, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, got out of the Army shortly before 9/11 and watched many of his friends go to war. Some never returned home and some of those who did were forever changed.

"Now I can give back and be there for them, and get them to share something I love," Semanoff said of the veterans. "It’s all about being free, being in the moment, leaving everything on the ground."

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Jon Leonard, a board member of Sportsmen for Warriors, which helped with the event Saturday, said activities like paragliding can be therapeutic to servicemen and servicewomen.

Leonard, a former Army sergeant 1st class, said he wants to make sure they feel appreciated.

"When I was in the military in the ’60s, that wasn’t a very pleasant time to be in the military, and I never want to see Americans in the military treated that way again," Leonard said.

Many of the more than half-dozen vets and active military who paraglided off the mountain Saturday said the event made them feel valued.

"It’s more motivation," said Marine Corps Sgt. Mario Roman, 27, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now works as a recruiter. "It’s fuel to keep pushing forward."

Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Ruiz, who also works as a recruiter and served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he had never done anything like paragliding before Saturday.

The 25-year-old, of West Jordan, said he thought he was going zip-lining. He’s also afraid of heights.

Nonetheless, Ruiz, riding tandem with an instructor, took a running start off the mountain, gliding for about 10 minutes over the green hills and rooftops of Lehi.

He called the ride "relaxing."

"It was better than zip-lining," Ruiz said, a smile on his face.

Salt Lake City-based Desert Tech was the presenting sponsor behind the event Saturday, with other contributions from Lock ‘N’ Load Java, CMPR Outdoors, Sportsmen for Warriors and Project Airtime.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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