Lonnie Bissionette is as a stubborn as they come, and we love him for it. The first paraplegic BASE jumper in the world, he is the only paraplegic to BASE jump off of four objects, and the fact that he was paralyzed BASE jumping hasn’t stopped him one bit.
Lonnie is also a pioneer in the brand new sport – para-bobsleigh. He represented Canada earlier this year in the World Cup and made one heck of a showing. To learn more about this adrenaline junkie who’s also dedicated father and an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, read on.
Why he’s fearless
Long before Lonnie was paralyzed in 2004, he knew BASE jumping was one if his favorite things in the world. He had already been BASE jumping for 10 years before his injury. Lonnie started jumping off of buildings in Toronto, not far from his home in St. Catharine, Ontario, loving every minute of it. Knowing this was his life’s passion, he began BASE jumping as much as possible.
And it was on his 1100 BASE jump when he was 39 years old, from a renowned bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, when his injury occurred. He wanted to do something different for his 1100th jump, so when he jumped from the bridge he went into a somersault. Unfortunately the parachute caught around his ankle and was unable to open. Lonnie fell at 70 miles an hour and 541ft below into the river.
While lying in the water, he knew he was paralyzed, and he was pulled from the water just before drowning. Even though this was one of worst things that could’ve happened, he looks at his injury as a second chance at life. My “second birthday” as he likes to call it, and he was determined to BASE jump again as soon as possible to prove that his injury didn’t beat him. “I’m no quitter,” he says. Lonnie became a C3 incomplete quad. He can walk, but only short distances.
And within 12 months of his injury Lonnie did BASE jump again. His plan was to only jump once just to prove he could, a 500 ft base jump from Niagara Falls, but he loved it so much (and it went so smoothly) that he decided to become a regular BASE jumper again.
Over the following years, Lonnie would BASE jump from Skylon Tower in Ontario (420ft), Bridge Day in West Virginia (876ft), Devil’s Punch Bowl in Hamilton, Ontario (104ft), Sibu Tower in Malaysia (413 ft), and Kjerag (500ft) in Norway. And in 2011, he made history again being the first paraplegic to skydive in the wingsuit. So far, he is over 30 BASE jumps as a paraplegic.
BASE jumping isn’t the only sport he’s been doing since his injury. In 2013, he tried paragliding in Spain, another sport he now loves, and in 2012 he was asked to try the brand new sport of para-bobsleigh. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Rick Hansen’s Relay (Rick is paraplegic and another SCI superstar we’ve profiled who pushed himself around the world), Lonnie too pushed hard, pushing himself 840 miles from Winnipeg to Calgary in 2012 and with minimal long distance wheelchair pushing experience. It totally shed light on Rick’s monumental achievement.
This was when Lonnie was asked to be on Canada’s new para-bobsleigh team. After a few years of training, Lonnie competed in the World Cup in January 2015 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, placing 3rd overall. And amazingly, last year he returned the site if his injury – Perrine Bridge in Idaho – to jump again and to reclaim what it took from him, and this time it was a success. The entire jump was profiled by ESPN (watch the video).
Now 50 years old and still going strong, recently skydiving for the Pan Am Games as a torchbearer (he has over 1600 skydives to his credit as well), this father of two sons is all about pursuing his dreams, and has become a great example for the spinal cord injury community
Would you return to the site of your injury to BASE jump?
- Visit his site: LonnieBissionette.com
- Follow him on FB: Lonnie Bissionette
Watch the videos!