By Kathleen Hickey
The act of coming to a decision or of fixing or settling a purpose.
FPV saved my life. If I am in an in-depth discussion with someone about how or why I got into drones, and FPV, I will always say that it ended up saving me. Growing up, and being raised by a single father that suffered from PTSD, made life difficult. Struggling through being homeless, and poor throughout my childhood was not easy. As an adult, the insecurities and fear that I had as a child never went away. I was afraid to make choices, and suffered from depression. I was constantly in survival mode, never really living my life, but just getting through it. I finally got to a place where I thought there was nothing in the world but pain, and I didn't want to live in that world anymore.
There was something about drones, and later FPV, that made me see that there were so many beautiful things in the world that I had not seen. You could fly your Phantom, or put your quad in the air, and your own backyard seemed like a new place. As a child, at night I would wish for wings, so I could leave where I was, and find a nicer place to be. It took a long time, but I finally got those wings I asked for.
The past few months I took some time off from writing. I felt disconnected from the community, and I felt like I didn't have a story worth telling. It was in conversations with people you're about to read about, like Jerrod, and Robert that I realized again, why I fell in love with it all in the first place. And I thought, if these guys can wake up everyday, and build their quads, and go out and fly, I have no excuses for being able to do it myself. I hope you enjoy learning more about these incredible men and woman.
Robert Pringle is from Cleveland Ohio, is married and has two little girls. Robert works freelance in sales and marketing. When Robert was 17, he was the passenger in a car accident. Due to his injuries, he would not have use of his right arm. Robert went through intense physical therapy. With time, he has been able to regain some movement in his arm, after practicing Russian Systema, a type of martial arts that he started 6 years ago, and still practices to this day.
Although his journey into quads is somewhat new, he has ten years of experience in RC aviation. When Robert turned 35, he decided he would try to do more things that he had been wanting to do, but hadn't for various reason. "I guess you could say I was at a spiritual point in my life to where I had to make a transformation." One day he and his wife were walking along a lake, and saw someone flying RC airplanes. Right away, Robert was hooked. " I was like, why am I not doing that? It was one of those things I had always told myself I wanted to do, why am I not doing it? And then I said, well I know why I'm not doing it. I've always told myself I have one hand and I can't. Literally two weeks later I went out and bought my first RC airplane."
When race quads first came out, Robert wasn't sold. Robert's cousin, Matt Nowakowski (SidewinderFPV) was excited about the new hobby, and got Robert out to fly as well. Even then, drone racing didn't seem that appealing to Robert. "You get there and you have to wait all these rounds until you get to fly a battery pack. You crash out 30 seconds into the race. You have to wait until the next round. And coming from an RC plane background, you don't want to crash your airplane." Two weeks after he had told a MultiGP chapter organizer he would probably not attend another race, he found out Chad Nowak and Rotor Riot were going to visit his local chapter. "I'd been kinda watching Rotor Riot for 6 months because I was following FPV drone racing...so when I found out that Chad wanted to come out to Akron...I'm the type of person that no matter what, I like to meet the top people in that industry."
At the time Rotor Riot came to visit, Robert had been flying quads for about 4 -5 months. Once the episode aired, Robert's life in FPV would dramatically change. "I tell Chad (Nowak) all the time, this whole thing has changed my life completely upside down. From travel, to sponsored trips, to being a sponsored pilot, to just meeting the different people in the industry and mingling with the top pilots."
Initially, Robert was unsure about being featured on the show. "At first, I didn't want them to put me in the limelight on Rotor Riot. You know, I was kind of scared of that. Most people with disabilities don't want everyone to know they have a disability, they try to hide it or whatever. But, I was talking with Chad (Nowak) about it, and Chad was like 'Robert man, people probably really need to hear your story. I know you might be embarrassed by it...but there's two ways you can go about this Robert. You can take it as it comes and you can take the quad, and go flying in a fields all by yourself, or Robert, you can take this opportunity and use it as a growing experience, and know that you can be an inspiration.'"
Robert decided to take the chance, and follow through with being on the episode, and follow the path that it set for him. "I just ran with it. I took caution to the wind and I thought who cares if people know I'm one handed anyway...I needed to learn and grow and get over some things myself, which actually I've always been self conscious of my injury, but now I'm not as self conscious about it anymore. So I think the whole process was meant to bring me to this point." Robert is now sponsored by Armattan, and often travels to races and other events.
As he started his new journey, Robert knew that he wanted to give back and help other pilots that may have a physical or mental disability. He and Cory Grywalski, also featured in the blog, started a Facebook group called Team Determined Phoenix FPV Project.
Team Determined is a highly skilled group of FPV drone racing pilots that have some sort of physical or mental disability. FPV has given them chance to regain some of what life has taken away and we want to share that with you. To Inspire you that you too can do any thing that you put your mind to and overcome your setbacks.
This page is for any one that has overcome any setback in any area of life and want a platform to share your story.
"There was really nothing in the FPV community about guys like us. So me and Cory were like, hey man, maybe we need to start a team with disabled pilots...we can relate to each other, feed off each other, maybe bring light to their stories the way Chad kind of brought light to my story, and maybe it will help, because it helped me." The Phoenix in the name is meant to represent rebirth, and overcoming difficulties. "These guys have these issues...and FPV is more to them than just racing, it's more than freestyle, it's getting back mobility issues that people have. There are guys coming home from the military...and it's amazing, really the power that FPV can really do for people like us." The page, as well as an awareness for people with disabilities in FPV has grown thanks to the efforts of Robert and Cory. "I think the community needs stories like our to rally around. I think the community needs a cause that's bigger than just drone racing and freestyling. I think stories like yours, and mine, and Jerrod's, and Cory's, and a lot of the people I'm meeting that fly FPV and have disabilities, I think our stories rise above any negativity that's out there. The biggest thing for me, is that I want to make a difference." Robert is known for his great attitude, and support of FPV. I know that he has, and will continue to touch the lives of everyone he meets in a positive way.
If you'd like to learn more about Robert, follow him on social:
Jerrod was born in Estes Park Colorado. He split his time between Estes Park, and Riverton Wyoming when his parents divorced. After high school, Jerrod was a ski instructor, and later joined the Navy. It was there that he became an aviation mechanic. Growing up with a love of airplanes, which he shared with his father, the position was perfect for Jerrod. After serving his time in the Navy, he became an aviation mechanic at the local airport in Cheyenne Wyoming.
When Jerrod was 25, his life would change forever. Living in an area surrounded by the wilderness, where outdoor sports are popular, Jerrod spent a lot of time out in nature. "I like to fly fish, and I decided that I was going to go fishing this one day. I had just gotten off of work. I worked nights at the airport, and my girlfriend at the time was pregnant, so I decided since I have the next few days off, I was going to stay up, and go fishing, and spend my time staying awake that way, and get on the day schedule so I could be awake when she was." On his way to his fishing spot, which was 30 minutes outside of town, a car in the opposite lane started going into Jerrod's lane, around a steep curb. In an attempt to avoid hitting the other car, Jerrod swerved, and lost control of his won car. He went through the windshield, and broke his neck. The other driver had not stopped to help, although someone at a local bar said they had seen someone come in, seemingly intoxicated, make a phone call, which may have been to the police. The other driver was never found.
Jerrod's dog, and Akita (named Kita) was also in the car, but made it out of the accident safely. Not willing to go to go with the EMTs at the time, they left Kita behind in a forested area. "I was in the hospital for two weeks before anybody found him. We all thought...we basically wrote him off as dead. After two weeks, even though he was a big dog, how is a domesticated dog going to live that long." Hikers had come across Kita, and he was returned to Jerrod while he was still in the ICU.
Jerrod spent almost three months in the hospital, moving after two weeks to a specialty hospital, going through various surgeries and rehabilitation. Because of his type of injury, doctors were unsure of the long term effects they would cause. After time, Jerrod learned that he would be paralyzed from the waist down, although he still has feeling in legs. He can also use his arms to a certain extent, but his hands are paralyzed as well.
Jerrod's relationship with his girlfriend at the time did not last after his accident, his son is now 15. Jerrod had eventually been sent to the VA in Albuquerque New Mexico where he stayed for a year. It was there that he was able to find medications that worked with his injury, and he was able to stop taking medications that he could form a dependency for. He went back to school, and earn an Associates Degree in Psychology. He was able to have dogs again, and function more normally in his day to day life, a process that took 10-12 years.
It was during a break from school that Jerrod discovered FPV. "One day I was watching YouTube just wasting time and that's when I kind of discovered quad copters and FPV. I don't know if it was a Charpu video that I saw first, or if it was Rotor Riot, but it was one of those. I eventually found Rotor Riot and I was jut like, here's my credit card, take my money, I've got to do this. So I went out and I bought goggles, and I bought a Vortex 250, and everything that goes along with it, a Taranis and a handful of batteries. And I proceeded to just beat the shit out of that poor quad. I think I ran into every post and sign and tree in my neighborhood." Part of Jerrod's affinity for quads is because it reminds him of when he used to ski. "It reminded me of skiing, actually because I used to like to ski in the trees where there was soft fluffy snow. And you pick out a line, and sit between the trees on the way down...and when I saw FPV I thought, oh my God this is exactly the same." Jerrod has had past experience with RC cars, but never anything that flew.
To use the Taranis, Jerrod has to use specially made dowels. "Those are the key to the lock for me, basically without those I'm not able to do anything. It was kind of funny, I bought everything, and then I was like, oh shit, how am I going to do this." Jerrod went to the metal shop at the community college he attends, and asked the other students for advice on how he could modify the Taranis. After a few days of trial and error, Jerrod made a "T" out of the dowels, and drilled holes so he could fit them over the existing sticks.
After his Vortex, Jerrod wanted to build his own quad, and after one build, went to the QAV R. This summer he bought an XHover Stingy Frame. "I've always been a tinkerer, so I like to build and work on stuff. That I really enjoy. It drives me crazy but in a good way. I like trying to figure out the problems of, you know, I can't hold a screwdriver, so how am I going to get the top plate off. And how am I not going to burn myself with the soldering iron, but get the stuff I want done...and I like when I'm done, to plug in a battery and see it work." Although Jerrod had previous experience with soldering, and building balsa planes, he turned to YouTube for help with how to build his quads. Because he is unable to use many tools with his hands, Jerrod uses his mouth to hold his soldering iron, as well as other tools. Some tools he is able to use with his hand, which stays in a fisted position. Soldering motors to the ESCs can take Jerrod up to an hour to complete, per motor. Jerrod's dog, Molly is able to help him by picking up items that are accidentally dropped. If Jerrod works 4-5 hours a day continuously on a frame, he can have it done in an average of 3-4 days. For Jerrod, the hard work and long hours is worth the experience he has when he flies. "I sit in a wheelchair all day, and there's not a whole lot of opportunities to go ski those trees like I used to, or up until recently I haven't even been able to drive a car. Being able to put the goggles on and take off and go fast, do flips and rolls, and have that out of body experience that everybody gets when they start flying. 5 minutes at a time, it's just amazing."
Although he has not raced yet, Jerrod is looking into MultiGP groups in his area that he could be a part of during the summer. Another goal is to continuously improve his skills. As far as advice for people with disabilities that would like to fly, and really people in general, Jerrod had this to say. "I always hate using my disability and talking about it because I don't want it to be forefront in my life. But that's pretty naive. It's forefront no matter what. I would just like people to understand that if they're interested in flying quads, or they're interested in flying real airplanes...you can't focus on the fact that you don't have a quadcopter that will do what Charpu's will do. You can't focus on the negative things, or else that's where your focus goes. I learned in Psychology that the body follow thought, and the thought follows body. So if you want to do something, start focusing on doing it, and not the reasons why you can't."
If you'd like to learn more about Jerrod, follow him on social:
I remember when I first started researching FPV. I watched a video of highlights from the 2015 Drone Nationals. That was the first time I saw Zoe Stumbaugh. She was also the first female pilot I saw fly FPV. Zoe started flying a few years ago while struggling with various health issues. " I was bed-bound due to a plethora of heath problems, have had several surgeries trying to repair colon, leg, pelvic and other issues. Had to drop out of college, couldn't ride my motorcycle or engage in life." Once Zoe caught on to quads, she took the time and effort to learn how to fly, and build. "Took me months of research and flying LOS before I built my first machine.... this was back in the days of SimonK and the Naze32, when Blackout Mini-H was king and SunnySky was all the rage lol."
Like many others in drones and FPV, Zoe has a background in gaming. "Have been a gamer most of my life, playing a past down Atari 2600 and quickly moving through the ranks of consoles till I became a computer nerd proper at the ripe age of 12. Loved a lot of different types of games but always gravitated towards racing sims like Grand Turismo, recently have been playing Assetto Corsa, Project Cars, and Dirt Rally in VR. Good fun."
Zoe has not only paved the way for female pilots, but has created her own unique style, which includes 3D flying. "Always sorta thought a drone should have the ability to fly inverted... Had seen the awesome 3D Heli videos of Alan Sazbo, then stumbled onto Curtis Youngblood and his collective pitch Stingray 500... Started researching how to do 3D with Fixed Pitch quads over a couple years ago now and tinkering with it... since then Flyduino has nearly perfected it on the ESC's and FC- and new Props, Motors, and frames designed from the ground up for 3D. it's become a bit of an obsession of mine lol."
Although some people may see Zoe as more of a freestyle than a racing pilot, she has competed in both rather equally, and successfully. "I've taken home 7 trophies in 2017 so far- 4 for racing and 3 for Freestyle, and placing in the top 5 of most national and international competitions I enter. Not to mention winning the first AMA race in the USA, and was the black sheep on Team Black Sheep at the first US Drone Nationals." Throughout the time that I've known Zoe, I've seen her share, and be open about her medical issues on social media. I asked if she spoke out to help others, or if ti was comforting to share her story. "It's hard to find a balance of what I want to share- it's definitely helped me deal with things. Right now I'm fighting with Pudendal Neuralgia along with some other nerve damage and pain, along with almost no feeling in my left leg and a constant ache-pain where the nerve was damaged along with severe stomach pain and nausea. Seems like I've helped a lot of people just by being myself and carrying on."
I've found myself, that when you're open about a personal subject on social media, people that share the same issues and struggles will often confide their own stories. I asked Zoe if there was a story or person that has been memorable. "My friend Steve that flies FPV, and 3D. He's a local Ex-Pro Surfer that suffered from a severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) several years ago, and has found FPV to be therapeutic. He beta-tested the Xcaliber frame that I fly- I try to keep him fed with spare parts to stay flying. 3D is hard on the rigs haha. Really though, there are countless stories that have inspired me and continue to do so."
When speaking to Zoe about the benefits of flying FPV while going through a medical hardship, she said this. "From the community of people, to the mind altering experience that is FPV... it got me out of the house in the limited capacity that I could muster, it gave me a purpose. Kept my hands and mind busy and away from the mess that was/is life." Zoe first met Robert Pringle at the first FPV Jamboree. "They had invited us both out as guests. Ended up hanging out with him a bit, ripping the sky apart, and an amazing Rafting Trip in Oregon I'll never forget." When Team Determined was started, Robert reached out to Zoe to invite her to the group. "Team Determined is close to my heart- when the group first formed and Robert invited me, it was like finding another home with people that could relate to some of my struggles, which I was strongly missing."
Through any pain or discomfort, Zoe continues to fly. "When I started flying FPV I had a cain and could barely walk, would prop myself up on a tree and have an assistant work the machine." Her vast experience in racing has taught Zoe how to manage through an injury while at an event. "Managing myself physically at events can be rough, have started incorporating mindfulness body awareness and dancing.... Besides that, just knowing comfortable seating is around... if not you may see me on the floor chillin' it's cool- am just getting comfy. I've been better about traveling with friends and almost always having a "travel buddy" of some sort." As far as the mental benefits of flying, Zoe describes how it has helped her when going through a hard time. "Flying FPV on a regular basis creates a pattern of positive chemical release within the brain, flooding it with adrenaline and other chemicals that are naturally uplifting that forces you to engage in being in the moment. It's like a magical dissociative anti-depressant to that makes forces you to think outside yourself for a few minutes at a time." For pilots that may also going through a tough moment in their lives, Zoe gives this advice. "Can't say it get's easier, I know with my nerve damage I may never recover fully and that I'll constantly live in pain... it's a constant struggle. What I can say is this, you can't change what happens to you, only how you deal with it. Silver lining being that you can't truly appreciate the good things in life till you have experienced true personal loss. Embrace the suck, live with it, and don't let it define you." For people that may feel discouraged, "Simply "Keep Flying"-it's a message that is held with my first machine in the National Model Aviation Museum's Permanent Collection. It's been almost 3 years and it still serves as a constant driving force for my passion in life."
If you'd like to learn more about Zoe, follow her on social:
Ryan is 32, and started flying FPV last year. He has a wife, and two children. Around 28, Ryan started suffering from back spasms. A combination of dirt biking, fire fighting, and a work injury meant that at 30, Ryan's doctor told him he needed to have back surgery. At the time, Ryan worked as an EMT. "I'm a medical assistant EMT by trade. My work was unique. We did something called tissue recovery. We could surgically recover nerves, bones, eyes, corneas, hearts, veins, skin, and organs for transplant usage." Ryan was also diagnosed with work related PTSD. "I was laid up with 2 spine injuries. Deep into drugs and self loathing. I was just diagnosed with ptsd and I literally couldn't walk unassisted." Ryan's friend offered a drone to lift up his spirits. "My buddy Patrick called me up and offered me a Syma X5C. Being the proud man I was I initially said no. Although I wanted a quad so bad. He gave me the drone because he knew I was depressed, about to kill myself." Ryan was on pain killers, and other medications. He was also not able to work.
Being able to fly was a positive distraction. Ryan told me about his first flight. "It was horrible! I put the quad in a tree and I burnt out a motor. But aside from that part it was the most free I had been in months. I was able to move up, down, do a flip. All I had to do was think really hard and translate to my fingers. Which weren't working great but working." Ryan started flying LOS, and later moved to FPV. Being able to fly has completely changed Ryan's outlook on life. "It's changed everything. My outlook which was bleak as hell before is now positive. I'm always planning new builds and tinkering. Drives my wife nuts. I'm always thinking for my next race. It's made me happy. I can never ride a dirt bike again. My back and neck can't handle it. Being confined to the house was just horrible. It's given me a way to go out and be free, I'm happy."
Ryan has recently been sponsored for Tiny Whooping. "When I'm hurting physically, or mentally I fly. I'm plagued by nightmares. I get them a lot. One of the best therapies I have is I'll wake up at 2am and go Whoop." Although he does not have a larger quad, he's saving up for one. "I want to get into bigger stuff more. Right now financially whoops are just so much easier. You can't freestyle on a whoop like you can a 5incher." The FPV community has also helped Ryan through his injuries. "They don't judge you. Even if you suck. These guys, they want you to do better. It's really helped my self esteem and drive. Just a bunch of peeps looking like goobers at the park crashing our toys. And laughing." Although he can't say that flying has directly impacted his health, Ryan is now off of most of the medications he was on, and generally more positive.
As far as advice to others going through a similar situation, Ryan had this to say. "There is hope, it may not be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It's never easy, probably never will be. I'll still dealing with my own demons. But, this gives you a chance to be who you used to be. This gives you freedom. Being locked within yourself sucks. Flying, gets you out of that. I'm not saying this will replace therapy. That helped me too. I still see my therapist, but he's actually encouraged me. When he found out what i was doing he hugged me. Don't ever stop moving forward. If you can't run, then walk, if you can't walk, then crawl. If you can't crawl then do something! For me, that was flying."
Cory was born and raised in Cambridge Ohio. He has an identical twin brother, and two older sisters. His father was a custom home builder and has recently retired. His mother owns a hair salon. Cory was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC). Symptoms can vary in degree from person to person. Cory's brother Keith was not born with ACM. "Growing up in a small town where I grew up, I think I was the only child in a wheelchair. I was raised as a child of like, I didn't have a disability. I was raised exactly like my twin brother, and my sisters." Even though his father was a custom home builder, Cory grew up in a non-accessible home. "My parents kind of raised me in a way, that if you want something bad enough, you just have to work hard enough and get it. There was no babying me in that aspect. I was very lucky to have the parents that I did."
After high school, Cory moved to Florida to attend college at Edison University. After a few semesters, he realized that school was not the best fit for him. "I kind of had a pathway in my life, with my disability especially, I didn't know what the future outcome really had for me. So I thought, do I want to waste time in school...or do I want to live my life, and experience experiences, and do things that I may never get to do in life, because what if my disability gets worse." Cory stayed in Florida for a couple of years, and then moved to Colorado.
While there, Cory got into off road wheelchair mountain biking. "When I was a kid I was watching this nature show called Next Step and they showed this off road wheelchair...and I was like blown away." It took 11 years, but eventually while in Colorado, he found an adaptive sports center that had the bike, three hours from his home. "I literally worked every week, so I could go there every weekend. I would drive three hours one way. I was lucky enough to qualify for a scholarship, because normally it's pretty expensive to rent this bike, with people to go out with you."
Cory eventually moved back to Ohio. It was there that his brother Keith introduced him to quads. "I looked, and that's when I first saw the french guys racing in the woods, and that was my first video...and I was hooked." That Christmas, Cory's mom bought him a small drone off of Amazon. "From that Christmas, Keith and I were looking on Amazon, and wherever you can find drone parts to buy frames and motors. Three years ago there wasn't much out there." Cory and Keith realized that Ready Made RC was close to their home, and started purchasing their gear there.
Cory and his brother started their own frame business, Twin Quad Frames this January. It came about during one of the hardest times that Cory and his family have gone through, while his father was battling Pancreatic Cancer. Cory and his brother used quads as an outlet while their dad was in the hospital. "Keith and I have always just been builders. We always wanted our own frame, just because what we were flying out there didn't really seem to work exactly how we wanted." What had initially been a project for them to build a frame each for personal use, turned into a business. "I had posted some pictures on my private Instagram...we got a ton of feedback...people asking how do I get one, I want one." They decided to produce 5 frames, which quickly sold out, and then produced more and more. They now have 4 different frame types available. I'm happy to note that my interview with Cory took place on his father's birthday, and that he is now a cancer survivor, and doing well.
Cory met Robert Pringle at a MultiGP race in Cleveland. They quickly became good friends, and started the Team Determined page together. "Me and Robert kind of combining, and talking, and we joked around about it at first, like we should start an only people with disabilities team." What may have started as a bit of a joke to them, turned into a a realization that there was a need for a group like that in FPV. " We realized very quickly it's not all about a physical disability. Because at first that's where we were shallow in thinking, it's a little but harder if you're physically disabled to do these things with these two little joy sticks. So we have had to adapt, and make things to make this work for us. And then we realized what it could really do mentally for us. That's when we realized, this takes people with PTSD and types of depression, and whatever, outside of their world that they live in, and just blast them off somewhere else." Besides the Team Determined Page, there is also a private chat where members can talk privately about person struggles, and accomplishments, and support each other.
When speaking with Cory, his passion and love for FPV are clear. When asked what FPV meant to him, he said this. "I was born unable to walk. Imagine if I woke up tomorrow out of bed, and unbeknownst to me, I'm able to walk, and I'm completely able bodied. If I woke up like that, I would start running and never stop. I swear to you. I would go out immediately and buy a bike, and a skateboard, and everything that I couldn't do, and do them. So FPV, imagine getting a brand new pair of legs, the very next morning, would you ever stop running? FPV to me is like that. I put on a pair of goggles, and I can finally run, and I am just not stopping."
If you'd like to learn more about Cory, follow him on social:
I would like to thank everyone featured in this blog, for their honesty and being brave enough to share their stores with everyone.
It’s a good day to fly!