A flying beaver and baby bee will be special guests at this year’s Gatesway Balloon Festival, to be held Sept. 19-20 at Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs in Claremore.
The special-shaped balloons have two important missions, says Event Coordinator LaQuinda Davison. “The first is to add visual impact to the event, and the second is to reinforce the fact that even seemingly insurmountable handicaps can be overcome.”
Michael Glen, pilot of the Joelly the Baby Bee balloon, grew up with a father who began hot air ballooning in 1973. Following in his father’s footsteps, Glen began to dream of becoming a hot air balloon pilot.
At the age of 21, though, it appeared his dream had come to a crashing halt when he was involved in a car accident, which left him as a paraplegic, unable to use his legs. Yet, despite his disability, Glen refused to lose focus, and now, more than 10 years since his accident, Glen is a hot air balloon pilot, and his balloon Joelly has become one of the ballooning world’s most popular attractions.
Fellow pilot Colin Graham’s airborne journey began in 1986 when a local balloonist flew over his house when he was a young boy growing up in Lawrenceville, Ga. In 1997, Graham began formal training as a pilot, went on to earn his balloon and fixed-wing licenses and to log more than 1,800 hours in the gondola, flying throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
Gatesway’s 19th annual Balloon Festival will feature 30 aircrafts. Admission and parking are free.