Two hang-gliding champs are headed to Italy to soar with the best.
Tucked into bed at night as a young girl, Linda Salamone cozied up under the covers and dreamed of spreading her arms wide and flying. She doesn’t need to dream anymore.
Strapped in a harness, she grips her hang glider and soars with the wind with a bird’s eye view of the world below.
“I feel like Superman,” says the Brighton woman. “I fly around, just like in my dreams.”
Slumber land now brings her images of flight minutiae — like stressing about not being able to find her glider in time for the big meet.
Linda’s biggest is coming up, July 19 through Aug. 2. She will compete in the women’s FAI World Hang Gliding Championship in the mountains of Sigillo, Italy.
In a little more than a decade, the 44-year-old lab technician at the University of Rochester Medical Center has gone from a newbie who struggled to get her feet off the ground at Rochester Area Flyers' training hill in Farmington to world-class status.
She is one of only two women from the United States with the honor of competing in Italy. East Rochester native Lisa Verzella is the other.
Linda won the U.S. Women's National Hang Gliding Championship in 2006 and 2007. And in a sport comprised mostly of men, she's gaining on them, too. She is ranked 16th among men and women hang-gliders in the country.
Worldwide, Linda ranks fifth among all female pilots. "Yeah, I'm hoping to change that one," she says.
It will be Lisa's second time competing the world competition. She placed in the middle of the pack in 1998; she has been hang gliding for 18 years.
Since the Finger Lakes lack the elevations of the Italian Alps, Linda usually gets towed to altitude by an ultralight or other small aircraft, then releases a tether when she's ready to soar. On Mt. Cucco in Italy, though, she will stand atop the summit, aim her glider for the edge and run off to catch air.
"It will be something new for me," says Linda.
From launch, it's a cross-country race to the set goal. The flying pattern can be any shape, like a the Italian boot or a triangle, with set GPS points pilots have to hit along the way. Whoever gets there the fastest wins.
More women hang glide in Europe than in the United States, so there's a larger pool of skilled pilots. Linda and Lisa are up against up to 40 women pilots from all over the world, including the three-time female champ, from Germany, and an Italian glider star who soars off Mt. Cucco all the time.
"I'll be looking for her skinny butt and chasing her through the sky," Linda says, laughing. "I want to win. It's a long shot and I know it. It's not impossible, but it's going to take a little bit of luck and everything else I have as a pilot."
Linda has a good chance at taking it, says Lisa, who says her forte is flying long distances.
July 19 - Aug. 2, in Italy.
• www.rochesterareaflyers.com/GOTTAFLY.html — Support the U.S. women’s hang-gliding competitors in the world championship here, with T-shirts and other support. It’s on the Rochester Area Flyers Web site.
Hang gliding is a mental game, says Linda: You need to know how to read the thermals — the pockets of warm air that lift a pilot higher — and how to read the wind, and you must be able to change your plans quickly. With practice, you learn when to speed up and when to slow down.
And you have to get past the pinch-me feeling that you're really flying, so not to forget to strategize. "You don't want to get too excited about anything up there," she says.
There's some risk.
"I always enjoyed kind of putting it out there, for lack of better words," says Lisa, now of Springville, Utah, where she's a hydrologist and trumpet player. "It's a sense of adventure when you're doing something that has a risk factor, going off the grid — something out of the norm. And the freedom of flight, that's just amazing."
It’s a thinking woman’s sport. At a recent meet in Arizona, Linda was 10th among 60 pilots — men and women — then her lead blew away. "I think it was my head," she says. "I didn't believe in myself enough."
The glider always wants to float down. Linda keeps it up, and lengthens the ride, by finding the thermals and getting higher. She controls the glider by shifting her weight.
In the air, she thinks only of flying. It's the great escape.
"You get to turn everything else off," says Linda. "You get to leave everything on the ground. Everything is immediate. I don't think of anything else."
Kris Dreessen can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 253, or at email@example.com.