From 1993 to 2004, Graham suffered a crippling fear of flying. The anxiety had arisen suddenly one day, with no good reason. “I said to myself: Wait a minute, I don’t like this! I’m five miles high in the sky, and nothing is holding me up, I can’t control it, and all I can do is look out of this one little window.”
Finally he hit upon a miracle cure: he would learn how to fly. He began with hang-gliding lessons. It was a gradual process. First he ran along flat ground with a hang glider strapped to his back. If there was any head wind, he would feel a sensation of lift but not enough to levitate. Next he walked 10 feet up a hill and ran down it, clearing the ground by several inches. He increased the height until, before he knew it, he was jumping off a 450-foot cliff. “By that point, you’re not even worried anymore,” he said. “My reputation as a hang-gliding pilot was at stake. I was trying not to mess up.”
Next he enrolled in flight training. In one lesson, his instructor switched off his Cessna’s engine, and he had to guide it onto the runway. This was easy for him, because the glide ratio of a Cessna 152 is almost exactly the same as a hang glider.
After 30 hours of classes, Graham decided that it was time for the real thing. He booked a ticket on the shuttle from Boston, where he was living, to New York. Not only was he fine — he found it exhilarating. Never again did he fear a crash. “Compared to a Cessna,” Graham said, “that plane was like a spaceship. It took off like a rocket, went up to this immensely high altitude, and there was zero turbulence. It was like flying for the first time all over again — like starting over with a new brain. It felt fabulous. And I thought, Wow!””