July 22, 2019

A new landing for Outdoor Centre hang-gliding veteran

Retiring John Janssen encourages all to try something new to keep active for life

John Janssen’s favourite part about hang gliding is flying cross-country, soaring from the bottom of one cloud to the next, more than 3,000 metres above the ground. 

“I enjoy the silence and the focus that’s required to stay airborne for hours at a time without a motor. The only thing you need to think about is which cloud to fly to next,” says Janssen, the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre’s rental equipment manager, program co-ordinator and instructor, who retires this fall.

Over 30 years of innovation

Janssen, 61, has worked at the Outdoor Centre for more than three decades. He started in 1987 as a cross-country ski instructor and from there he built the centre’s bike shop and designed its programs as well as many others over the years.

Born and raised in Calgary, Janssen graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Physical Education (now the Faculty of Kinesiology) majoring in outdoor pursuits. He has held instructor certifications in telemark and cross-country skiing, windsurfing, avalanche operations and canoeing.

Janssen is currently a senior instructor with the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, and a Canadian hang gliding record holder (free triangle, 109 kilometres in 5.5 hours, 2015). His expertise and 40-year relationship with Muller Windsports as director of hang gliding programs has been key to the sport’s growth in Canada.

John Janssen shows his official Canadian Record certificate.

John Janssen shows his official Canadian Record certificate.

Margo Visser

He was instrumental in negotiating the initial agreement between the City of Calgary, Transport Canada and Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada to permit the training of basic flight skills within the city.  

“Without this agreement and John’s work on the annual permit renewals, training for students within the city would not have been possible,” notes Vincene Muller from Muller Windsports. “With John, the courses flourished. We’ll miss him.”

Motivated by his students

Janssen has taught thousands of people ranging in age from teens to people in their 80s to fly.

“I am motivated by watching people learn outdoor skills,” says Janssen, recalling one of his hang gliding students, after becoming airborne for the first time, sobbing uncontrollably upon landing as she was so moved by the exhilaration of flying. And Janssen will always remember the joy another student showed when he learned how to ride a bike at the age of 45.

His advice to students is to try a new activity each year. “We’re fortunate to live so close to a spectacular natural environment,” says Janssen. “There are few places that can match the variety and magnitude of outdoor recreational opportunities. Get out and enjoy. It’s great for your body and for your brain.”

Leading by example

“John has provided outstanding leadership to the Outdoor Centre and outdoor community, making a positive impact on thousands of individuals over the years,” says Dr. Penny Werthner, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology. “By encouraging our community to be active outdoors, he has been a great ambassador for the centre and our faculty. We wish him the very best in his future adventures.”

What’s next on his agenda? He laughs, and says: “That’s easy. Continue to travel and explore new trails and places to fly.”

But he’s not leaving the Outdoor Centre behind completely you’ll still be able to find him there periodically instructing hang gliding and skiing and enjoying every minute.