Serena Waldman

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Serena Waldman (born 1984), is a person with cerebral palsy. She became famous as a young adult when a company dedicated to the transport of disabled people began to sponsor her father's wheelchair-accessible hot air balloon, which was named after her.


Waldman suffered severe complications during birth, including not breathing for nearly 21 minutes. She spent an extended stay in hospital after birth, followed by a period of therapies and multiple medical visits.

Her father, Gary Waldman, received an invitation by Phil Gray, a friend and hot air balloon pilot, to take a ride in a hot air balloon in 1986. Waldman decided to take his then two-year-old daughter along with him. Unexpectedly to the balloon's riders, Serena reacted to the balloon ride in a positive way. This prompted her father to open a service where he could try to give the same experience to other disabled children. [1]

Her father acquired a hot air balloon of his own, naming it "Serena's Song", after his daughter. It is believed to be the first hot air balloon in the world to be specially modified so that people in wheelchairs can fly in it.

Financing the service proved to be hard. At first, Waldman funded the service with his own money as well as money from family and friends. However, the cost of flying the balloon each time, which involved purchasing fuel and flying permits was proving too high for them to keep up with.

In the following months, Gary Waldman contacted several newspapers, in an attempt to find someone who could sponsor the trips. Expensive as it was to fly the balloon, Serena and her father continued to travel across the United States to fairs and other events, where they could give disabled people the experience of flying in a hot air balloon. Their story became nationally known, as many television channels and other types of media covered them.

Their story came to be noticed by the ATC (now a part of Transdev), a company dedicated to the ground transport of disabled people by using public transportation buses under their name. Jim Long, president of ATC, decided that his company would sponsor the "Serena's Song" balloon. Veolia still sponsors the hot air balloon, which tours the United States with the single goal of letting disabled people, their loved ones, friends and caretakers experience flying by hot air balloon.

ATC also dedicated one of their buses to Serena Waldman, naming it "Serena's Song" as well. The bus was duplicated with many toy and memorabilia models, such as a toy plush van.


  1. ^ Chicago Tribune - Chicago, Ill. Sep 18, 2005 link

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