When our son landed his first job out of college, he had worked for this company nearly a year before he invited his Dad and me to visit the office for lunch one day.
I had heard many stories about his supervisor, Clayton. I was anxious to meet this man who was intelligent and hard-working, but also was blessed with a spark of orneriness and knew how to have fun.
I was stunned when Clayton came in to the conference room in a wheelchair. Cort had never once mentioned this. Later, in talking to Cort about this, he said, “Oh, I guess I don’t think about it, because he sure doesn’t let it stop him from doing everything the rest of us do.”
We’ve gotten to know Clayton over the years, growing to admire his tenacity. A couple of years ago, Clayton decided he wanted to get his pilot’s license. For him, it would mean a specially-outfitted plane must be found.
A mechanical engineer, he has always been drawn to devices that would provide him with more mobility. He had built radio-control planes with his father and grandfather as a boy, and the seed for flight was planted then.
“I knew I would either have to find a flight school with adapted planes or I was going to have to adapt one myself,” he told us. “I found two hand control systems out there, and from there researched to find which model aircraft was compatible. He learned a friend of a friend had a Cherokee 140 for sale. Equipped with a hand brake, instead of the traditional toe brakes, it was exactly what he had been hoping to find. He bought the plane before he even knew if he could do it.
Controlling the rudders, all footwork, had to be adapted to hand controls with this special rare part. When it arrived, Clayton quickly realized how rare it is. “It said No. 52 on it.” Clayton spent six months training with a Galion, Ohio flight instructor and earned his private pilot certificate.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Clayton has been confined to a wheelchair most of his life after an accident when he was a toddler. The drive toward flight came to fruition at the very right time, as his life was just about to change.
While working at a conference in Pittsburgh as an engineer for Forbes Rehabilitation Services, he was helping a client with his speaking device. The client’s wife said she would love for Clayton to meet the speech and language pathologist who had been so helpful to them. When she approached, Clayton said his jaw dropped like a cartoon character at her beauty. She was in Pittsburgh to give a presentation on brain herniation and her therapeutic work to help her patient.
Tathiane, born in Brasilia, Brazil, worked in Miami. In order to get to know one another better, Clayton’s plane was pressed in to service many times over the months. This confirmed bachelor was falling in love.
Last night, we celebrated with many friends at the wedding of Clayton and Tathi. As Clayton’s brother said in his toast, “Clayton taught me to do so many things that he was unable to do, so I did many things for both of us. He is still inspiring me as he has inspired everyone in this room to do even the seemingly impossible.”
Everyone we meet leaves an impression on our life. Others have the ability to change us deeply, inspiring us to live more fully, appreciate more deeply, and hold the present with gratitude.