Colombia native Daniel Vallejo moved to Kelowna when he learned the Okanagan’s mountains were perfect for him to hone his paragliding skills.
Vallejo started competing in 2016 in Columbia, before representing Canada in Paragliding Accuracy competitions. He is currently ranked second in Canada and 519th in the world.
Recently, after being unable to find sponsors, he started a GoFundMe that he said will help with travel costs as he continues to compete until he can reach his goal at the world championship in Serbia in May. But first, he has to qualify.
Vallejo said he will be gliding in other competitions in order to bring his ranking into the top 500. The $5,000 he is requesting on the fundraiser will go towards travelling expenses.
It’s not something like hockey or soccer in Canada, it’s more of a club, he said. In Serbia, if he does well, he qualifies for the finals.
“Serbia, for me, is like the world champions before the world games,” Vallejo said. “It’s just the best of the best.”
The 26-year-old has been in Canada since he was 16, but didn’t take up the sport until heartbreak led him to ask his father, a fellow paraglider, to teach him.
After starting lessons in a field, “my dad, he told me, ‘you’re going to learn with an actual instructor’… he didn’t want me to go (through) what he went through,” he said, adding his father broke his legs learning the sport.
Vallejo comes from a family of paragliders, his father and mother are both judges in Columbia.
“My first competition had over 48 pilots and I ranked 18,” he said. His father, Walter, taught him to respect his natural surroundings and to learn from it.
“It’s not just going and flying. We don’t belong (in the sky.) If we go there we need to respect it, we need to respect the landscape, we need to respect the property and the people… it’s an extreme sport, you need to do it with caution,” Vallejio said.
The paraglider competes in accuracy competitions, where he glides from a mountain top, to a marked landing zone. “Imagine playing darts, you have to hit in the centre,” Vallejo said.
“The feeling is right away you get nervous right? Every time I take off I’m always nervous, but it’s like a good rush. You don’t let that turn into panic. When you’re competing, obviously you’re so focused, I have to talk to myself,” he said.
“You feel that rush, even though up there it’s colder, you don’t feel cold.
You feel hot, you’re blood is pumping… plus the feeling of nothing holding you. Everyone dreams of eventually (flying,) with paragliding, you can achieve that… You feel free.”
Vallejo would like to see paragliding accuracy competitions in the Olympics.
“It’s awesome to represent Canada already,” he said. “Even though I’m from Columbia… Spanish is my main language, but I think in English, talk in English… when I represent Canada in these competitions, I feel like I’m representing my home country.”
“You feel proud, you feel like you do more, and eventually (hope to) be recognized for everyone.”