Eric Ingram

A Purdue program is giving a student diagnosed with Freeman Sheldon syndrome a chance to achieve his life-long goal to fly.

Eric Ingram, a senior at Old Dominion University in Virginia, is part of a summer month-long program called Able Flight. The program provides him with a full scholarship to live at First Street Towers, take flight lessons and eventually obtain his sport pilot certificate all here at Purdue.

Ingram is studying physics and hopes to go on to obtain a Master’s in astrophysics. He’s also a member of Sigma Pi fraternity. His high-reaching dreams, however, don’t stop at academics.

“Flying has always been an aspiration,” Ingram said. “Without programs like this, I didn’t think I could attain (the ability to fly).”

Ingram has Freeman Sheldon syndrome, which doesn’t allow him to actively use his legs. The program accommodates this by having Ingram fly in a plane with all hand controls, something he finds especially difficult.

“Since you can’t use your feet for the rudder, it’s a little tricky to learn,” he said.

Along with the plane, his car is also adjusted for him to use his hands to accelerate and brake – giving him the freedom of movement. He prefers flying to driving because to him, it’s a whole new feeling.

“It’s cool because you’re traveling in 3D,” Ingram said. “You can go in all directions.”

His flight instructor, Derek Stewart, a senior in the College of Technology, was approached by a professor to participate in Able Flight. Stewart agreed because he wanted to do something outside his comfort zone.

“I wanted to witness something pretty special,” Stewart said.

Stewart and Ingram get along well for being strangers almost four weeks ago. They joke around constantly, but also take the work that has to be done seriously.

“I feel like our personalities compliment each other,” Stewart said. “We have fun in the aircraft.”

He and the other students are living in First Street Towers for the duration of the program and are without assistance at the residence hall except for each other. The independence the program gives him is something Ingram cherishes. Normally, he lives at home with his parents, but here he gets to be completely independent.

Pioneering a challenge is a skill Ingram is used to. Ingram, along with others, started the first quad rugby team in Virginia called the “East Coast Cripplers.” His team has traveled to Brazil, Canada and Mexico for tournaments.

Once he is given a challenge, Ingram finds a way to conquer it. He, however, thinks of it as just living his life.

“I just try to live my life like a normal person,” he said.

Whenever he’s confronted with someone assuming he can’t do something, he proves them wrong.

“Whatever they think I can’t do, I try to do it,” Ingram said. “I speak with my actions.”

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