Vijay Soni began paragliding from the hills in Baner and Pashan in 1996 when there were no buildings in the area. In January next year, the 43-yr-old civil engineer from Pune will participate in his third World Paragliding Championship in Columbia, South America. He is India’s only confirmed entry for the championship this time.
The World Paragliding Championship, held every two years, will be hosted in Roldanillo, Columbia, from January 10 to 25 next year. “One of the most important challenges before us is getting paragliding identified as a sport. Like any other game, it needs physical and mental resilience, technical skills and temperament of a sportsperson,” says Soni, born and brought up in Pune. He has a construction business.
“Paragliding is mathematics. While flying we have to judge the positions of the hot air masses rising from the ground which are called thermals. We have to reach the thermals as we fly, get to the core and then make use of them for sustained flying like the birds with large wingspread do,” he says. To participate in the championship, a glider has to rank among the first 300 gliders in the world for the last two years and only 150 enter the finals.
Soni says he started flying 18 years ago after he saw an article in a newspaper about paragliding. “I first started flying from hills in Baner and Pashan with a group. There were no buildings in the area like there are today. These days I make sure that I fly at least once a week. We fly from Sinhagad, Bopdeo Ghat, Kamshet, Panchgani and other areas around Pune.”
Till date Soni has participated in more than 15 international competitions in India and abroad and many more national championships and has stood first in some of them. Manoj Roy, the president of Paragliding Association of India, said, “Soni is the only confirmed entry from India. But it must be highlighted, here, that there are many more people in India who have the world rankings required for the world championship. But sponsorship is the problem. The equipment is costly and there are other expenses too.”
In the championship, the competitors have to glide through a given path and the ranking is decided based on the timing of completion. Soni, who stood 106th in the 12th world championship and 66th in the 13th, says, “I hope for a better rank and will put in all my efforts for it.” One of Soni’s trainers, veteran paraglider Rajan Juvekar says, “It is really commendable that someone like Vijay, who has a business and family, puts in such efforts into this sport. We hope such achievements bring better days for paragliding in India.”
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