Avengers, assemble: Marvel coordinator teaches Central Texas kids how to fly

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LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) — Dressed in a pink superhero costume with an accompanying cape, Viola rolls down to the platform at Two Wishes Ranch in Lockhart. Crews strap her wheelchair to cables, slowly raising her into the air.

Hanging from the same flight system that has hoisted Benedict Cumberbatch in “Dr. Strange,” she flies through the air, wind whipping past her as she spins and makes her descent.

A wide smile slowly spreads across her face, and crews lift her again for a second turn.

More than 40 children took flight at Two Wishes Ranch in Lockhart Sunday in an event hosted by nonprofit Flying Hero Club. The organization specializes in superhero flights for children with disabilities, cancer and terminal illnesses, said nonprofit founder Jim Churchman.

Churchman has more than 25 years of experience as a Hollywood stunt coordinator, with past work featured in the likes of “Dr. Strange,” “Ant-Man,” “X-Men Apocalypse” and “Captain Marvel.”

He launched Flying Hero Club in July 2017 in memory of former stuntman and stunt coordinator Trevor Habberstad, who died of stomach cancer at age 27. For Churchman, flight is part of his everyday job; but for the children he meets at these events, it’s a life’s dream come to fruition.

“If you had a superpower, if you could wish for a superpower, I think 90% of the people would ask to fly,” he said.

Viola takes flight as part of the nonprofit Flying Hero Club’s event in Lockhart June 6. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

It was during a shoot in Montreal that he befriended Marc Beaudin, partner of local restaurant Au Pied de Cochon. Churchman offered Beaudin’s children the opportunity to fly, including their daughter, battling cancer.

As the daughter took flight, Beaudin’s wife burst into tears before Churchman, saying it was the first time she had seemed so joyous and carefree in quite some time.

“You don’t understand,” the mother told Churchman. “We haven’t seen our daughter laugh in a year.”

Skylar Reeves of Two Wishes Ranch said it didn’t take much convincing from Churchman for her to host Sunday’s event. After watching highlight reels from Flying Hero Club’s previous events, Reeves said she was overcome with emotions at seeing these children experience life as a superhero.

“I remember when I was little having dreams, repetitive dreams, of flying in my neighborhood. I think it’s just something that’s such a huge curiosity as a kid,” she said. “I got to do a test run today and it truly was the most freeing — I mean I wish I could fly around just like that all around the ranch.”

For Churchman, Sunday’s event was an especially emotional one for himself and crew members alike, as it marked the nonprofit’s 18-month return to flights following the coronavirus pandemic.

As Viola took flight, Churchman, crew members and onlookers cheered and rallied behind her, few with a dry eye. Many of Churchman’s former coworkers and crew members make efforts to fly in on their own dime to witness these events, he said.

Stunt coordinating is a profession that features long hours and stressful days. But when each child takes flight, Churchman said seeing movie magic come off the silver screen and into real life is priceless.

“It’s uplifting, it’s fulfilling, right? We go through life we’re dealt our own lives, dealt our own hand of cards and we do the best we can with that, and some people just have to struggle,” he said. “For me, it’s a release. It’s a recharge, and it’s just an opportunity to let them forget about all those struggles.”

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