Able Flight has awarded two new scholarships to help two aspiring Sport Pilots: Brandy Hofstetter and Ajantha (A.J.) Nanayakkara.
Hofstetter was only 17 months old when she was paralyzed in a car crash, and that accident and the trauma to her young body could have defined her life. But she has never let that happen. Just a few months ago she graduated from high school with a list of honors that fills pages, and with a passion for becoming a pilot.
When she applied for her scholarship, she wrote that “…flying will teach me that boundaries are indiscernible and that the world is truly limitless. Lessons such as these hold value not only in flight, but in my own life.”
She is well on her way to learning those lessons as she already having completed her first 10 hours training in busy Philadelphia area airspace flying Philly Sport Pilot’s adapted Sky Arrow.
Ajantha (A.J.) Nanayakkara became a C5-6 quadriplegic in April 1994. When he speaks of that time and the impact it had on his life he doesn’t mince words. The man who played competitive tennis and ran cross country now speaks of those years as a time of depression and self isolation, and as a time when he had little or no motivation to want to live.
His turnaround began with joining a wheelchair rugby team, followed by becoming a peer mentor for others with a spinal cord injury. Then he went back to school, and at age 34, earned his B.A. in Psychology from Temple University. Now, he works as the Wheelchair Sports Program Coordinator at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, the very facility where he was treated 15 years ago.
He knows that as with any quadriplegic, he’ll face intense challenges in learning to fly, but he says that “as a mentor, my learning how to fly can potentially help me reach that next patient I meet who feels he has nothing worthwhile to live for.” And then he adds, “Seriously, is there anything cooler in the world than being a pilot?”
Able Flight, a national nonprofit that provides flight and career training opportunities for people with physical disabilities, is the only one of its kind in the United States. Since 2006 it has awarded 30 scholarships. For more information: AbleFlight.org