March 18, 2014

Never Giving Up

Stephany Glassing portrait

Stephany Glassing

No one would have blamed Stephany Glassing for giving up on her childhood dream of becoming a pilot. When she was selected as one of Able Flight’s first two scholarship winners in 2006, no one could have predicted what she would have to endure over the next six years.

Her training began well and looked promising, but then came the first in a series of serious illnesses related to her spinal cord injury as a teenager. More than once she recovered and returned to flying, determined to make up for lost ground. She soloed, and then began cross-country work only to return to the hospital once again to fight off another life-threatening illness. But as she has done with every challenge in the decades since becoming paralyzed, Stephany never lost sight of her goal, and on Friday, November 16th, her dream came true.

Stephany’s journey to the moment when she first held her pilot certificate in her hands was never certain. In fact, she will freely admit to a life of great highs and deep lows. Photos of her as a child, standing on the legs that now do not support her, show her living the life of a teenager in the Florida sun. Blond hair, always a smile; that’s the Stephany before the night of the accident that left her paralyzed. Not yet 20 at the time, she made a choice to ride with a drunk driver and has now spent decades in a wheelchair. The use of her legs may be gone, but the smile is still there.

She raised a bright and beautiful daughter all on her own, and along the way she became a champion water skier. She is a graphic artist and painter, and now she has added licensed pilot to her remarkable list of achievements. But that  latest success was often in doubt as her body rebelled at her years in the chair. Time after time she was in the hospital battling deep and serious infections, and facing risky surgery to repair the almost truss-like metal bracing that stabilizes her back.

Sky Arrow in flight

Stephany Glassing and instructor Mitch Hansen

As each round of recovery and rehabilitation took its toll, the inevitable self doubt set in, but she never let herself cross the line into saying that it was no longer possible. And typical of people who choose to thank others first, Stephany praises those who continued to support and encourage her, “As much as I appreciate the congratulations on becoming a pilot and that they are so proud of me, I need them all to know that I did not do this single-handedly. This was a team effort.  An effort only accomplished with the love and support I have felt from so many. The friends who literally kept me alive through many days of just wanting to let go, the daughter who gave me a reason to keep going, and two of the greatest flight instructors I’ll ever meet! Without Mike Davidson and Mitch Hansen being a part of my journey I truly don’t know if I would have gotten through it. They believed in me and were more than patient in understanding what life was throwing my way. They were my CFIs, but also my friends.”

Another supporter along the way has been Jon Hansen, father of instructor Mitch and along with his twin brother Ron, a creator of Hansen Air Group. When Able Flight was founded in 2006 Jon  generously offered to help by providing time in his adapted Sky Arrow for the first two students. The other  pilot earned his license in June of 2007, but even as time passed Jon honored his promise to help Stephany complete her training. To Mike, Mitch, Jon, and everyone who believed in her, Stephany says, “Thanks to ALL who were involved and continue to stay involved with Able Flight. You may think that you are giving someone the opportunity to become a pilot but you are giving so much more. The freedom to be able to get in a plane now is the cherry on the top. Allowing a childhood dream to come to fruition and knowing I did it with many odds against me has given me the courage and strength to get through anything in the remainder of my journey.”

To watch Stephany in the Sky Arrow and hear her describe what flying means to her, visit the video section of Able Flight galleries and click on “Stephany’s Story”.