Imagine having a disability that makes something already challenging even tougher. You could let the condition defeat you, or look it in the eye and defeat it—and that’s just what several modelers have done.
Pilots Larry Haley, John Boyko, and Ray Nemovi, and others have beaten the odds. They didn’t let physical problems stand in the way of their dreams. They have made modifications to help them achieve their goals and now serve as inspirations to others.
“With technology today, anything is possible,” said Carlyn Strangeway, manager of Acute Care Rehab Services at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital in Anderson, Indiana. “Adaptations or modifications can be made for everything, so that everyone can participate in whatever activity they choose.
“Having a purpose helps promote healing and mental wellness, as it motivates the person to get up out of bed, get dressed, and get out and do their hobby. At the same time, he or she can be addressing and maintaining some of their disabilities/deficits such as cognition, retaining and gaining fine motor coordination, and promoting mental wellness. When you are focusing on what you can do, you forget about what you can’t do”
Hobbies give those with physical ailments something to focus on and look forward to, Carlyn added. “Having a purpose helps promote healing and mental wellness.”
Larry, John, and Ray not only see aeromodeling as a fun challenge, but also as therapy. They shared how they got into the hobby and have dealt with adversity in a positive way.
Larry Haley, Lodi, California
“Although not an aspect of any dedicated therapy, I found flying to be amazingly therapeutic, allowing me to experience a freedom of movement my injury would never allow,” Larry said. “With every flight, I became more and more drawn toward the hobby, and even today I find myself thrilled with every flight I make.”
Larry flies a SAB Heli Division Goblin 500, a QAV500 quadcopter, a DJI Phantom V2 with Zenmuse Gimbal System, and an E-flite Sbach 342. He was injured in a fall in May 1995, and a broken neck left him paralyzed from the chest down. He had owned a few RC airplanes before the accident, but did not really take to the skies until after he was injured.
Using a simulator to refine his skills from time to time, Larry has mostly learned to fly by trial and error—flying and crashing. He never joined any RC clubs, but has received help from other pilots and is grateful for assistance with complex builds that are beyond his ability.
Larry’s hands are paralyzed but he quickly learned to control all aspects of a standard radio by resting his palms on the control sticks. “Although slightly less precise when it comes to very fine maneuvering, I have very good control, and have no issues flying helicopters, airplanes, or anything else for that matter—my skill set is usually my only factor.”
Like other modelers, he sometimes becomes frustrated. “Crashes are always very frustrating for me, as I am not able to do much repair work on my own. I rely on others to assist me. I am deeply thankful for those who take the time to help me, but no matter what, crashes keep me on the ground a lot longer than others.” Larry usually tries to fly within his skillset, but admits that he enjoys flying outside of his flight envelope.
Using technology and stabilization devices keeps him a few mistakes ahead of the curve and adds an entirely new element to flight. “I utilize flight stabilizers in my airplanes, and an SK720 [Skookum Robotics GPS module] in my SAB Goblin 500, which allows me to use different flight modes for greater stability.”
Larry loves the variety of RC, whether it is helicopters, airplanes, or multirotors. “There is always something new and amazing that comes to light.”
He has a positive outlook on life and hopes that his ability to overcome something challenging helps others. “I am humbled by anyone who may look at me as an inspiration within any aspect of my life, and I can only hope to live up to what others may see and believe. Simply put, when it comes to RC flight, if I can do it, anyone can!”
Larry feels that his most rewarding part of this experience is that RC led him to his supervisory position at HeliDirect, an online RC helicopter retail store. “I truly enjoy what I do, and find it amazing that I am able to work in such a fun and enjoyable field, surrounded by wonderful coworkers who make every day a true joy.” He also credits his wife, Stephanie, for giving him perpetual care and support of his endeavors.
His advice to others is to not allow self-perceived restrictions to hold you back if you’re really interested in the hobby. “So much in life is within our grasp. RC flight is truly rewarding, and if you have the desire or interest within this amazing hobby, your limitations can be overcome.”
John Boyko, Dayton, Ohio
Describing himself as an old-school modeler, John doesn’t use any kind of technological advances to help his flying. “… I don’t even own a simulator. The talk of ‘gyros’ isn’t even remotely in the cards. Yep, I fly against guys using them … and have beaten them …”
John has been a modeler since he was five years old. “Flying models was something that my father, brother, and I could all do without much ‘adaptation’ in my younger years.” He became ill with viral encephalitis as an infant, which caused a brain injury that resulted in cerebral palsy (CP).
As he grew up, flying model airplanes helped John feel “normal.” “I got started in RC after going through the old stick-and-tissue airplanes and CL (pretty crazy … a person with CP turning around in a circle for minutes at a time!).
“There was a field behind the house where the neighborhood kids got together and flew .049-size models. We flew every day, all day long!”
He used crutches and braces as a child, but occasionally falling on the ground didn’t slow him down. And it still doesn’t today. The Top Gun competitor currently flies a 120-inch Cessna Skymaster and 96-inch Pitts Special.
John said that the modeling world is great about helping him. “I have begun to embrace their willingness to help move equipment and start engines, [although] that has taken some time for me to get comfortable with.” However, he draws the line at letting anyone else put his airplanes together. “If something needs held, that’s great, but all the critical stuff, I do.”
John sometimes is hard on himself. “When it comes to flying, I’ve learned to fly against myself. Did I fly my best round? I look at every maneuver. Did I execute it correctly? I really don’t hover over the scores. I go out and fly against myself.”
A physical therapist by day, John finds that flying is great mental therapy and a confidence booster. “No matter what is going on in my physical world, I have a place to go participate and compete with some of the best Scale pilots in the world. That is something that is priceless for me.”
John’s advice to other potential modelers is simple: “If you are interested and passionate about flying, then go for it. One of the coolest parts about model aviation is that there are so many different aspects of the hobby. There is something for everyone and every ability! Who knows … you might find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the country or the world, and be considered more than an equal.”
Ray Nemovi, San Diego
Doctors didn’t expect Ray to live after he fell to the ground while skydiving on his 27th birthday, pushing his pelvis into his lower back, destroying his fourth and fifth lumbar, and damaging his spinal cord, but he proved them wrong. Four years later—with the assistance of braces, walkers, and canes—Ray got out of his wheelchair and walked. Failure was not in his vocabulary.
Needing something to keep his mind off of the pain and while he was recovering, Ray purchased his first RC helicopter at a hobby shop. He learned to fly through a combination of simulator use, joining the Palomar RC Flyers club, and taking a class with a well-known RC helicopter pilot.
“I used the hobby to take my mind off of my pain and disability, and of course when I crashed, it was really hard on me,” he said. “I found myself very depressed, but always found a way to get back in the saddle and not accept failure.”
Hobby advancements have helped him advance his piloting skills. “When I started flying, we used 72 MHz transmitters, flybarred rotor heads, and nitro engines. Something always failed. Today we have flybarless technology, powerful electric engines, and well-designed helicopters at reasonable costs. I am now at a point where I have outstanding control over the model in any orientation, as well as the mechanical skills to build a reliable aircraft.”
Ray currently flies a T-Rex 700e, SAB Heli Division Goblin helicopters, and multirotor aerial photography platforms. The Iran-born US citizen is also currently attending school for aeronautics and astronautics engineering.
Ray hopes that his life experiences are an inspiration for others during tough times. He feels that using skills and knowledge to help others is very important. “I got help when I needed it and I will always take the time to help others who may need [it].”
His advice for those looking to get into the hobby is to “… think outside the box where the unimaginable is possible. Throughout history, many ordinary people have achieved extraordinary things. I tend to believe anything is possible with 100% determination and focus directed toward the very thing one desires most.”
Read more stories about how this hobby can help heal online at www.ModelAviation.com/healinghobby.