Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mike Penketh's Life As Pilot Changed Drastically, Losing His Hands in Race Car Crash!

"What would you do if you found yourself awakening from a deep slumber to discover that your hands were missing? How would you eat, or drink? How would you brush your teeth? How would you change your clothes? How would you turn a doorknob? How would you answer the phone? How would you sign a check, or fill out a form? The frustrations are endless, but survival is a human instinct, so you would have to figure out how to do things or have someone do everything for you. The innate instinct for survival can get you by, but the human spirit and a strong sense of pride can help you overcome obstacles at a much faster pace...

"You work with what you have," says Mike, a bilateral amputee. "And you never give up on your dreams..."


Within My Grasp:
 A Double Amputee's True Story

By Mike Penketh with Marti Smiley Childs
 and Jeff March

Mike Penketh knew what he wanted to do early in his life--he wanted to fly! Nothing ever swayed him from that desire, that goal...Not then, not now that he has lost both of his hands... This autobiography is truly a remarkable story. His desire to fly stayed strong throughout his life, even though he  wanted to move faster than permitted by officials...LOL But even when he got a "no," that wouldn't stop him either... His determination, his drive to succeed, and, later, his adjustments to an unexpected change in his physical body, is nothing short of a sign of the courage, strength and tenacity that kept this daring man going...

"I trained on Cessna 150s--100-horsepower, little
bitty airplanes--but at Fullerton Airport I saw an
assortment of airplanes that stirred my imagination.
I flew every one of them--in my mind. I was a dreamer.
I remember a yellow J3 Cub sitting on the green grass,
a Porterfield, an SNJ Trainer, a Fletcher COIN Fighter
and off in the corner a Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk. I sat
many hours in the P-40 imagining--I was a Flying
Tiger in China. I was Pappy Boyington's wingman. I
was an ace!
"Meanwhile that summer, halfway around the world,
real fighter pilots found themselves engaged in a
conflict that soon would affect the lives of people and
alter the American political landscape for the next
Mike's father, George, was a Marine during WWII and served as an airplane mechanic. Then later went back into service when the Korean War began. Mike was just four years old, but he listened carefully to his father's stories, and then in 1951 he got the chance to see his first--an F4UB Corsair, commenting that it was the biggest thing he'd ever seen. Of course that first time was scary for him, but it didn't take his long to replace his fear with desire to see more and more planes.

By Kindergarten, he was sharing his extensive knowledge with his fellow students. And, of course, he was soon building models of planes and then finally got an engine to fly one! Needless to say, he was obsessed and his obsession followed him through high school, when he announced that he would soon be off to college to become a pilot...

By the mid-60s he was taking his first lessons...

I have to add a personal note that he and I are just one year apart in age...My dream had been to be a secretary and I had started a temporary job and then full-time by 1963, when I graduated. Both had a dream, but I have to say that mine was much more traditional for a female...and safer...
"Six weeks after enrolling
in the Aviation Scholarship
Program, in the Spring of
1970, I drove my 1965
Corvette on Route 66 back to
Quantico, Virginia, to Officer
Candidates School. There I
had the rudest awakening of
my life.

Mike in his Zlin 50
But this guy was committed to one career, while mine stayed much the same through the years, except in level of complexity as I moved up. Still, I have to admit my admiration for this man who took on a major challenge during that particular time in our history. Yes, he did make it all the way, but I'm going to let you read all about the "good stuff" he did while in the service... Except to highlight this picture is in "Iwakuni, Japan, flying an A-4E with 20 mm cannon..."In addition to serving in the Marines, Mike went on to become a forest firefighter, a civilian pilot, including learning and performing Aerobatics, and then finally landing an airline position.

Ironically, Mike was injured in an air racer car crash. He saw the 6500 to 7000 rpms on the tachometer as he went into second gear and then into third, seeing the tachometer climb higher. No one knows what speed he was going when the car crashed, possibly in excess of 250 miles per hour...

The doctors were planning on fitting him for hooks...and he quickly nixed that! They would not permit him to drive either his car or to fly again--and he was going to do both.

And he did...

Flying enthusiasts will want to read all about the planes Mike has flown and all about his flying adventures, but we women will want to know about what he's done since successfully returning to flying.

I think you will all be proud that Mike is now totally involved with "A Touch of Understanding" which works to have those with various disabilities meet with school children to talk about their specific needs and what has been required, but, more so, to engender the belief for each of them that they can be successful in their endeavors, if they really want to and work hard to do it!

Although it was not mandatory that Mike have assistance, it has helped greatly for him to be aided by Magy, a service dog... And wouldn't you know it, this life-long competitor quickly had Magy involved in agility competitions!

Hey, you got to love this guy! If we ever wanted a "poster" with "Never Give Up!, this guy would surely be someone to consider as the role model!

There is much about this book to enjoy--reading of a young boy's dreams and his work to achieve them is just as meaningful as those adjustments he had to make when his body was no longer able to respond to his every command as it had done for so many years. You will see that he has been able to add humor to his interactions with the children and others and to, more importantly, adapt his discussions of his own issues to theirs so that they are able to see and be inspired by his achievements thereafter.

This is an important book. Many will see a need to share this within their families. But young boys and girls and teens can learn about perseverance, dedication and so much more. This is a must-reader for many--I know you'll know it! Get it soon to help others see and reach their potentials. And Mike, God Bless...


Mike and wife, Mary Ann
Mike Penketh poses with his
best friend Magy...
Co-authors Marti Smiley Childs
and Jeff March of EditPros LLC

American Airlines Captain Mike Penketh maintained a perfect safety record while flying passengers, but on his own time he got his adrenaline rushes by mastering aerobatics and flying in competitions. He raced his home built Pitts S-1 biplane in the Reno Air Races. In his quest for speed, he miscalculated only once – and he paid dearly.
     "I didn't know where I was, and I didn't know the guy who was leaning over me. I had been unconscious, and I was flat on my back, but as I began awakening in a groggy, dull fog, I sensed that I was in some kind of aircraft. Over the noise, the pilot spoke. He was talking about a patient with severe limb damage and a possible head injury," Mike wrote in the opening chapter of the book. "The pilot was contacting the radio dispatch room at the University of Utah Hospital Trauma Services Unit in Salt Lake City. I did not comprehend that I was the patient. Everything revolved in slow motion around me. I felt cold, numb. And then I blacked out again."
     Trauma surgeons subsequently were forced to amputate Mike's hands following a horrific accident that nearly killed him. Although the course of his life was unalterably changed, he was determined against all odds to fly airplanes again. Within a remarkably short time of losing his hands, Mike became determined to resume flying airplanes. He was fitted for and tried numerous hook devices and prosthetic arms before his relentless pursuit led him to a technologically advanced solution with which he was able to perform some critical hand functions.
     He culminated two years of preparations when he successfully demonstrated for doubting FAA examiners his ability to fly an aircraft using electronic prosthetic hands. The FAA reinstated his pilot's license and, while he never flew Boeing 737s again, he went on to perform intricate maneuvers in aerobatics shows to prove to himself and the naysayers that he could do it. Mike, working in collaboration with Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March, tells his story in Within My Grasp: A Double Amputee's True Story. It is an inspirational autobiography about the challenges of coping with a disability, and learning how to focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot do.

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