Nathan Anglen describes paragliding like a dream common to many people.
The one in which the subconscious mind takes over, breaks the tethers of gravity and propels the body high above the earth in a thrilling and delightful journey with stunning views and feelings of elation and endless opportunity.
“We all have that dream where we are kind of floating and if you jump really high you soar through the sky. Paragliding kind of releases that in reality,” Anglen said.
The dream turned into a nightmare for the Moscow man recently. On Oct. 6, a pleasant autumn afternoon, Anglen crashed his paraglider and slammed into the Lewiston hill. The force of impact left him with four broken vertebrae, a broken sternum, a fractured wrist and several broken ribs.
But the nightmare was followed almost immediately by a dreamlike reality, where people surrounded him in a cocoon of love, healing and caring. For the man who has built his life around faith, family and the idea of a community of kindness, his near-death experience has been life affirming.
“I work as a youth minister (at Bridge Bible Fellowship) in Moscow. It’s been so amazing to see the community rally around my wife and I and just help in every way conceivable,” he said. “It’s really weird: As a minister I spent a lot of my life investing in and encouraging others, and to be on the receiving side of that — I don’t know, it’s just been life changing in so many ways. You just see the breadth of the community that really does care. Apparently the Lord wants me around.”
After the crash, Anglen was taken to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center at Lewiston, where he underwent two surgeries on his back and another on his wrist. He has since been transferred to the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Northwest in Post Falls, where he is undergoing intensive physical therapy and making great strides.
“I am able to get out of bed and stand and walk unassisted on my own,” he said. “I don’t have a full recovery at this point, but a lot of the physical therapists here, who are doing an incredible job, are really impressed that it’s coming together.”
There is a chance he will be able to return home Saturday to his wife, Krista, and their five children, who range in age from 4 months to 8 years old. It’s an outcome that was anything but certain. Aside from the very real possibility that he could have perished in the accident, doctors all but told him it’s a miracle he is walking.
“I love not being dead. That is really cool,” he said. “What a blessing.”
A chunk of fractured bone slammed into a nerve cluster at the base of his L2 vertebrae. His surgeon said there isn’t a more painful injury, and removing the bone would have left most people paralyzed.
“I’m so grateful for every breath and the fact I’m going to get to go wrestle with my kids again and walk in the woods and, God forbid, go play with a paraglider,” he said.
Yes, he does plan on flying again. But that will be sometime down the road. He will spend 12 weeks in a restrictive back brace and continue a regimen of physical therapy likely to last months.
“We are definitely settling into a one-day-at-a-time and a bit of a long haul, but I am hopeful for a full recovery and can’t wait to get up in the air again and do a little more sightseeing. I will fly carefully in the future. I’m not scared of it, which is funny.”
Perhaps that is because he mostly, but not fully, understands what happened him. The conditions for flying were perfect that day. His friend, Kyle Richmond, took off from an overlook along the Old Spiral Highway. Anglen followed and was working to catch a thermal when the accident happened, likely caused, he said, by a mistake he made.
“The simple version of the story is, I stalled my left wing tip when I was too close to the ground to recover it. I went into what is known as a negative spin,” he said. “Imagine you were falling backwards and spinning, like a real bad fair ride. Just imagine a real bad fair ride.”
Although he is a conservative pilot, it was not the first time that had happened. He’s well versed in the maneuvers needed to recover from such an occurrence and worked to do so. But his closeness to the ground — he was about 75 feet in the air — made it more complicated. He had to time his maneuver so the paraglider would whisk him away from the hillside when it inflated.
“I mistimed that move,” he said, and slammed into the hill at about 30 mph.
Anglen was conscious and hailed Richmond via radio.
“Buddy, I’m broken,” he said.
Again, people were quick to give him aid and comfort. Laying in pain, he freed himself from his harness. Soon, Michelle Baker of Lewiston who witnessed the crash, showed up, made sure he didn’t move and called for help. Another witness to the crash, Jim Wilson, arrived moments later.
“He said ‘Can I pray for you,’ and I said ‘Yes.’ There was an experience. It was as if in this moment I was so broken and in so much pain and he, in prayer, reached out for peace and comfort and asked the Lord if he would give these things to me. He literally spoke life into me when I wasn’t able to myself.”
Richmond was able to land his paraglider and get to the crash site as well. He called Krista Anglen, and Nathan was able to speak to her.
“Oh man, that is not the kind of phone call you want to receive, especially having five little kids at home,” she said. “He was able to squeak out a couple of words ‘Sweetheart, I’m very broken.’ He always had a sense of humor, and that has definitely not left him. It was good to hear his voice, but he didn’t quite know what was going on.”
“Thankfully, Kyle’s wife was here with me,” Krista Anglen said. “She stayed and watched my kids and I was able to head down the hill and be with him.”
She supports her husband’s desire to fly in the future.
“I’m definitely not scared away,” she said. “I think flying is something that just brings him to his full life; it’s one of those things that is just refreshing. I feel like he was born to fly, and I’m not opposed to it.”
Anglen also has praise for the first responders who rescued him, and for the doctors, nurses and therapists who have helped him since.
“I have some hugs to give out,” he said. “I’m going to track some people down and say some pretty big thank-yous.”
Their friends have started a GoFundMe account to cover medical expenses over and above their modest insurance policy. Those interested in helping can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-anglen-family.
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.