First Officer Ryan M. recently shared his story of resilience and determination that led him to fulfill his dream of flying.
Just six days into Ryan’s senior year of high school, his entire world came to a sudden stop. Prior to this day, Ryan was a competitive golfer, multinational champion equestrian, musician, and a 4.2 GPA student who had his sights set on attending a highly ranked four-year university.
Starting in September of 2015, Ryan began running a low-grade fever. For three days, his mother took him to see the doctor, each time being told, “it’s just a virus, it will pass.” During the time he was sick, he became lethargic, had a high fever, and by the fourth day, his high fever still wouldn’t break, and he threw up to the point that the blood vessels in his eyes burst, leaving the whites of his eyes completely red. His mother rushed him back to the doctor’s office, where a new doctor took immediate action, which assisted in saving his life.
He was rushed to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego by ambulance and put into the Intensive Care Unit. While in the trauma room, about 15 doctors and nurses worked frantically, trying to save Ryan’s life. With his blood pressure so low, his body went into septic shock, causing his organs to begin to shut down. His family was told there was a high chance Ryan would not survive the night. The following day, he remained in critical condition in the ICU.
It was during this time while in the hospital that Ryan made a decision that would alter his future. While lying in the ICU, he looked up at his dad and said, “I want to become a pilot.” Ryan’s dad was a pilot (private pilot) himself, and he immediately rushed to the nearby airport, which was only five minutes from the hospital, and picked up an assortment of books and Ryan’s first log book. That was the moment Ryan truly started to focus on reaching a new goal in his life, and he was determined to fight against whatever was going to stand in his way so he could fly!
On Sept. 10, 2015, the bone marrow test returned and Ryan was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and began intensive chemotherapy. The first month of treatment was extremely difficult for Ryan and his family.
Despite being given a life-altering diagnosis, Ryan was determined to not let cancer define him. In November, just over two months since being diagnosed, he went up for his first flight! Flying was the one place Ryan felt he had total control over his life and was his way to escape the hardships of chemotherapy. It was also during that first flight that his oncology doctor called and left a message saying Ryan had reached remission.
However, that was not the end of his treatment. Ryan endured almost 3.5 years of chemotherapy while also continuing his flight lessons. Since he was undergoing treatment, he could not qualify for a medical. Ryan had supportive instructors to help him continue to pursue his dreams of flying. Ryan was then told that he could obtain a Sport License, and his instructor, Bob (who is commonly known as the Taildragger Guru of Southern California), introduced Ryan to tail draggers, which led to his decision to buy his first airplane in April of 2018.
Ryan got his first airplane, a 1946 Aeronca Chief named “Snoopy” and soon after became a certified pilot with a Sport License. He never altered his end goal and persevered through his drive, determination, and passion for flying. Upon finishing treatment, Ryan set out to get his medical and was granted a Class 1 by the FAA.
Ryan continued his flying journey by obtaining his Private Certificate and then shortly after getting his Commercial Certificate. All his tailwheel time led to him getting to tow banners for a company called “FlySkyAds Aerial Advertisement” based out of New Jersey. After his first summer flying the Jersey Shore and the New York City skyline, Ryan convinced his boss to let him fly 2 Super Cubs across the country to start a Southern California banner operation. Ryan successfully built the new operation from the ground up, training and hiring pilots, scheduling banners, and getting permission from airports to be able to operate the business out of them. The once two-airplane operation based solely out of New Jersey now has six airplanes in its fleet spread between the east and west coast, thanks to the work done between Ryan and his old boss. During this time, Ryan was also attending The University of Southern California, where he graduated with honors with a major in Political Science and a Minor in Music on May 15, 2021.
The moment finally came in August of this year when Ryan hit 1500 hours in his airplane, submitted his applications, and decided he wanted to join the Air Wisconsin family. Almost 6 years after Ryan told his dad he wanted to become a pilot, Ryan never let cancer define what his future could be.
Ryan’s dream became a reality this year when he piloted his first commercial airline flight as a First Officer with Air Wisconsin Airlines while his parents sat happily on board in the back!
He noted, “My favorite thing about Air Wisconsin is the culture the company has been able to create. To me, it truly feels like a family, as I get to see familiar faces of pilots and flight attendants every time I’m walking down the halls at the airports. Everyone has an outstanding personality and is truly fun to be around after a long day’s work.”
When asked what encouragement Ryan has for aspiring pilots, he remarks, “I hope my story shows that “even in extreme cases of adversity (whether or not it’s one’s goal to be a pilot), it is truly possible to follow and achieve any dream you have. Before my Illness, I was set on my plan of graduating high school at the top of my class, attending a 4-year university to play D1 golf, and then going on to law school to become a lawyer. What my journey showed me was that sometimes life can alter the course you had planned, and even though at the time it may seem as though your life is ruined, the reality is you have total control of the life you chose to live after that adversity. You can either choose to dwell on the negatives or find the positives hidden in the situation, which just might lead you to the life you never thought you could have. Flying to me is the greatest freedom that one could ask for, and I cherish every second I get to spend in the sky.”
Air Wisconsin is excited to have Ryan as a part of our family, and we thank him for sharing his story of never giving up while chasing his dreams.