Dream Becomes Reality at Kiwanis BalloonFest

A dream came true at the 2011 Kiwanis BalloonFest over the weekend. Chris Adkins, the mother of one of our ValpoLifers Barby Alfredson, always dreamed of taking a balloon ride, adding it to her “bucket list” but never imagining she would have the opportunity to cross it off that list. At the 21st annual gathering of hot air balloons, put on every year by the Valparaiso Kiwanis, Chris was able to finally experience her desired balloon ride.

Around 15 balloons, pilots and their teams blew into town for the festival, providing festival attendees the awe-inspiring experience of a balloon launch and a night glow. Team Stars and Heights, led by pilot Mark Westra and his wife Alora, and assisted by Jenny Garst and Vickie Reid, brought their balloon “Too Hot 2 Handle” to the event. When the team got wind of Chris’s wish, they immediately stepped into action to make it happen, embracing Chris as one of their own.

Mark took the time to educate Chris all about the balloon ride and what she could expect from her experience, ensuring all her concerns and questions were answered. As she has some difficulty with walking, getting in and out of the balloon, along with experiencing a rough landing seemed like it could be an issue but Mark and his team refused to let that get in the way. [Editor’s note: It’s not easy for ANYONE to get into those baskets!] Utilizing their truck lift, normally used to lift the balloon and its basket into the bed, and a step ladder, the team was able to give Chris extra help in getting in and out of the balloon.

As for softening the landing, that was a matter of timing and location. Balloonists rely on the wind to direct their flight, never knowing exactly where they’re going to land before take off. While in flight, Mark searched for an open area where he could ease the balloon to a soft landing. A wide yard of grass next to a bean field presented itself and Mark slowly descended into the field for an extra smooth finish. The chase team and Chris’s family followed behind, helping to bring in the balloon and celebrate the completion of Chris’s dream ride.

“I had tears of joy and so much thanks in my heart,” enthused Chris, “This was on my bucket list and never thought I would ever get to do it. So much kindness was shown me and my family. Thank you ever so much ValpoLife and the Valparaiso Kiwanis Club, and Stars and Heights. It was absolutely, utterly awesome!

Not only was the ride a thrill for Chris, it was also a great experience for the balloon team. “The Stars and Heights balloon team were so very proud to fly your banner and appreciate your sponsorship so much,” stated Alora, “What a blessing I shared this weekend.” “It was an absolute honor to be involved in the flight,” Vickie said, “You and your family were such a blessing.”

I also was extremely honored to be a part of helping Chris’s dream come true. There’s nothing like watching someone experience absolute joy, the happiness is infectious! I definitely appreciate the time the Stars and Heights team took to make sure the ride was amazing and successful. They were one of the best balloon teams I’ve had the pleasure of working with and I highly recommend their services if you’re ever in the market for a balloon ride!

Click here to see more photos from this year's festival!