Amid the rocket ship and parrot balloons that will float over Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival this holiday weekend, none will make more of an impact than the round, blue balloon with a handicap symbol and a small, simple heart.
This is Serena's Song, the country's first wheelchair-accessible hot air balloon that will make its 20th visit to the Lisle festival.
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The balloon is specially designed for riders with physical or mental disabilities who otherwise can't navigate baskets that are often cramped or lack doors.
"Its basket is extra wide and designed from steel specially approved by the FAA for stability," said Susan Friend, executive director of SEASPAR, or Southwest Association of Special Parks and Recreation, and the balloon's organizer for the festival.
Nine stories tall and made of 1,600 yards of Ripstop nylon, Serena's Song has a basket 15 times stronger to support the extra weight and the door.
The balloon, created 21 years ago by Iowa native Gary Waldman, regularly tours the country and allows riders to go in the air in the tethered balloon along with the operator.
Waldman, whose daughter Serena has cerebral palsy, was inspired to create the balloon after he was invited to take a flight with family friend Phil Gray.
Once in flight, Serena made a noise and, for the first time, verbally expressed herself.
The name Serena's Song came from that day, with the thrill of flight bringing out Waldman's joy.
Waldman and Gray have since toured the country giving special-needs riders free flights. Greg Pavesich, SEASPAR's on-the-ground coordinator for the event, calls the balloon's arrival one of the annual highlights of his job.
"It's great for once to see people with disabilities have the same advantages as able-bodied people," he said. "It's nice to see the culture inverted."
SEASPAR estimates that Serena's Song will carry its 2,000th Eyes to the Skies passenger this year, and community members could not be prouder of its continued involvement with the festival.
"In my career of 35 years, some of my fondest memories have been on that field in Lisle," Friend said.
Special-needs children and adults may reserve a ride in Serena's Song by contacting SEASPAR at seaspar.org or (630) 960-7600 for a registration form. Rides will take place 6 to 7:30 a.m. and 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, July 3 to 5.