I can feel the heat of the sand through the soles of my shoes. I can't wipe the sweat from my neck because I'm holding on to the control bar.
Finally she smiles.
"I guess so."
I pull the bar down against my hips, hold it tight, and run. With the awkward glider, the wind blowing against me, and sand filling my sneakers, it's more like a waddle, but I take the longest strides I can. The instructor runs alongside me, still holding on to the rope.
"Wiggle your fingers," she says. "Relax your hands."
I hold the bar loosely and keep running. Suddenly there's no ground beneath my feet. I feel like Wile E. Coyote when he goes off the end of a cliff, my legs furiously pedaling through the air.
"Pull the bar under your chin."
I do, and, as if they know what to do, as if they've been waiting my whole life for this, my legs relax behind me. I'm horizontal! I'm flying!
The most amazing part of hang gliding is the weightless feeling. My regret about failing to lose weight temporarily vanishes. Although I'm just a few feet above the ground, the sensation is unmistakably one I remember from dreams of flying. I might feel heavy on land, but in the air I soar.
The bystanders at the bottom of the dune, the other hang gliders and their instructors, the heat of the sun all fall away—there's nothing but wind and air and my body that knows just what to do.
"Flare!" Andrea yells. I push the bar straight up with my palms, and I float easily toward the ground until my feet are on the sand, my knees bent. I straighten my legs into a solid landing. I grin as the bystanders gathered around a bush on the flat sand applaud.
"Perfect!" one of them calls.
I take three more flights, some more perfect than others. My success depends on my skill—running fast, holding the bar correctly, pulling it in, pushing it out, relaxing my fingers—and not the shape of my body.
Back on earth, I know I still have to lose weight. But when it feels impossible, I'll think about how my body, as imperfect as it is, was healthy and strong enough to control the glider, to lift me above the sand. And I'll have this to remember and to sustain my spirit: gliding over the dune, my body supported by the wind. Weightless.
Jody Mace is a freelance writer living in North Carolina.
We Hear You!