Experts soar into Wheaton for annual kite-flying event
Connor Doran flips on some music, maybe a little Frank Sinatra.
Then the 19-year-old begins his dance. He twists and turns, moving his feet and arms in the type of choreography that would give J-Lo "goosies."
His partner is a kite that weighs no more than your kid's peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The kite is so light -- and Doran so skilled -- that it can take flight without even the slightest breeze.
"It's based on movement," Doran says. "It's kind of like dancing."
Sure, the Bend, Ore., native relishes the tricks he can make the kite perform. He can reverse it in flight. He can catch it. He's even got a move he calls the "tornado."
But it's way more than that for Doran. When he's out in a field flying his kites he says it's a release from all the bullying he has received at school, a release from the stress and fear that gnaws at him about his next seizure.
Connor Doran has epilepsy. The seizures that come with it make him different from his classmates, from those who might otherwise be his friends.
But when he's flying his kites, all of that is cast from his mind.
"I've never had a seizure when I'm flying my kite," he says.
Better still, he doesn't just fly a kite. He's really, really good at it. Good enough, in fact, to finish in the top 12 in 2010 on NBC-TV's "America's Got Talent."
He'll show off that skill on Saturday, April 21, during Wheaton Park District's Go Fly a Kite event at Graf Park, just east of the DuPage County Fairgrounds.
He'll do his routines to the tunes of Ol' Blue Eyes or maybe Bobby Darin.
Doran says he's read the Internet chatter that claimed he advanced in the TV talent competition simply because of his epilepsy. He says a handful of his classmates at an Oregon community college have bullied him. In high school, he faced hurtful, harsh language from some peers.
"There's nothing that bothers me more than that," he says.
Doran doesn't want stories of verbal or physical abuse in schools to be ignored or dismissed. So he makes sure to speak about bullying and promote the Epilepsy Foundation whenever he showcases his mesmerizing kite routines at festivals from Louisiana to Wisconsin.
He first started flying five years ago when he asked his mom, Amy, a champion in national kite-flying competitions, if he could test out her indoor kite.
Amy had been perfecting the Revolution kite -- flying with its four lines -- for about a month, but when Doran let it soar, it seemed to come naturally.
"Connor kind of gets lost in his flying," Amy says. "He goes somewhere else and takes everybody with him."
Now Connor launches kites in any kind of conditions. One kite designed with vented screen material can fly in 40 mph winds.
"He bypassed me and now I'm the one that's chasing him," Amy says.
Doran will perform from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday in addition to a demonstration by members of the Chicago Fire Kite Team.
Like Doran, Chicago Fire members deliver routines that have viewers thinking, "How do they do it?" says Cathy Hetrick, a marketing and special events coordinator at Wheaton Park District.
"It's kind of like watching the Blue Angels fly," Hetrick says.
Besides the professionals, a "grand launch" at 11:30 a.m. aims to break the city's record of flying 843 kites simultaneously.
All that controlled chaos will be set to "Let's Go Fly a Kite," the quintessential kite-flying song from "Mary Poppins."
The event also will feature vendors, officials from the Chicago chapter of the Epilepsy Foundation and free kite-making while supplies last.
Doran won't be hard to find. He'll be the guy doing the incredible tricks and wearing a broad smile. For a short time, at least, he won't have a care in the world.
Flying a kite, he says, "takes your problems and stress away."