Frank Janssen, once a world-class parapenter, gets paralyzed after he crashes against a mountain wall. He fights hard to find a way to walk again. Once able to stumble, he climbs a mountain and dives down from it again, searching for that mysterious jet stream high in the sky that leads to a remote mountain colony of hundreds of vultures in the Spanish Pyrenees. Flying among these vultures is the way for him to feel “whole” again …. A story about will power and overcoming gravity.
Frank Janssen (47) was once part of the Dutch Parapenters team. All over the world he jumped with his parasail at great heights from mountain slopes, steep rock faces, and cliffs.
Until that one jump proved fatal to him in 1997. Frank broke his back and had to continue living with the effects of a partial spinal cord injury. Both his legs have been paralyzed ever since. Anyone expecting a passive, gloomy man in a wheelchair from now on, is sorely mistaken about Frank Janssen. When I visited him at home recently, I rarely saw someone with so much zest for life and so much boundless energy. Somehow, in the years since his accident, he has managed, with some sort of supporting prostheses on both legs, to find a way of walking again. A way that is painful and hard for him, but also enough to carry his body uphill again, even if he has to take those enormous pains for granted to do so. Something he managed to do again for the first time after a grueling struggle.
As soon as he is somewhat able to stumble again (which for someone with a spinal cord injury is already a miraculous achievement) , Frank drags himself to a high point, where he. hangs up his slide, and does not (as before) run into the depths, but patiently waits until the right gust of wind simply blows him down the mountain.
In this way, through his strength of mind, he repeatedly -literally- transcends his earthly limitations, and then he floats freely and carefree like a bird through the air. Stunting and tumbling as of old, he sometimes screams for joy. For here his body functions as one again: with every little turn he manages to raise his sail to great heights and is freed from his spinal cord injury for hours, sometimes a whole day. Landing he does in his own way. According to Frank himself, thanks to a technique all his own, he is now able to land on a box of eggs.
With that, his old dream also came back into view: to really soar like the giant bearded vultures of the Spanish Pyrenees. Several years ago, he traveled there and encountered old comrades in arms above the vast rocky mountains, with whom he shared international competitions. A parapenter constantly seeks rising air, like an elevator that takes him or her to higher and higher altitudes, which prolongs the gliding flight down. The Spanish Pyrenees offer a veritable mecca of thermals. The altitude world record stands at 7 kilometers (!) , the longest distance ever flown is 400 km. But the vultures are still the true masters here: without a significant wing beat, these amazing gliders manage to glide from the Pyrenees to the Netherlands.
Frank finds himself among the circling vultures that live sky-high here, sometimes the distance between them is no more than 3 meters. The circling air effortlessly keeps him at this altitude for hours, at times it seems to him that the vultures among whom he floats are asleep. Tears stream down his cheeks, everything seems to fall into place.
Frank invites me to return with him and my film camera to the Spanish Pyrenees. He now knows the route of the vultures through the sky, and he wants to take me this route, in his duo-sail (after all, I have no experience myself) . On condition that I film him in all this, to show his story and the vultures, as the masters of the skies, to the world.
Due to a lack of funding we could not complete this film. Producers/ distributos interested to pursue this story further with us, please feel free to reach out.