Snowbirds give kids a lift.
Snowbirds give kids a lift
Snowbird pilot Capt. Eric Willrich helps John Seale, 11, out of the cockpit after showing him the controls of the plane at a meet-and-greet Tuesday at Nanaimo Airport. The CHILD Foundation organized the event with the Snowbirds, ambassadors for the foundation, to provide a lift for children diagnosed with intestinal and liver disorders. The Snowbirds were scheduled to perform over Nanaimo Harbour Wednesday evening.
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By Toby Gorman - Nanaimo News Bulletin
Published: August 12, 2009 3:00 PM
Updated: August 12, 2009 4:10 PM
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It was hard to tell who was more excited as Capt. Eric Willrich showed off his Snowbird jet to 11-year-old John Seale and his brother Matthew, 7.
As Willrich enthusiastically showed the boys the controls inside the CF-1142, the boys grinned as though they were about to take flight.
“I don’t know who has more fun doing this,” said Willrich during a short break at the Children with Intestinal and Liver Disorders Foundation meet-and-greet with the Snowbird team Tuesday at Nanaimo Airport.
“We’re just big kids who think these planes are pretty cool, too. It’s like show-and-tell for us. It’s easy to live vicariously through these kids when you see their smiles light up.”
John Seale hasn’t always had reason to smile. As a one-year-old, he was diagnosed with a liver disorder and shortly after that had a liver transplant.
All of that disappeared, at least for the moment, when the Snowbirds arrived.
“He showed me the pedals and the controls,” Seale said after climbing out of the cockpit.
His brother Matthew learned an equally valuable lesson – “Don’t touch the bright red button.”
The boys’ mother, Janet, saw another opportunity at the event.
“[John] gets to see other kids who have had similar conditions and realize he’s not the only one,” she said. “The Snowbirds have brought all of these children together today.”
One of those was Dheran Shahi, 6, from Duncan, who has ulcerative colitis. Snowbird pilot Cpl. Eric Beauchesne showed him how to move the plane’s ailerons.
“I tried to move the tail too, but my feet couldn’t touch the pedals,” said Shahi.
The Snowbirds, who performed over Nanaimo Harbour Wednesday evening to a massive crowd in Maffeo Sutton Park and along the waterfront, were in Nanaimo to raise awareness for CHILD, which helps children with intestinal and liver disease.
For seven years, the Snowbirds have been ambassadors for CHILD, one of only two charities in Canada associated with the flying team.
At the meet-and-greet Tuesday, a Hawk One Sabre jet and a CF-1142 Centennial jet were also on display.
“It’s pretty rare to have them all in the same spot at the same time,” said Scott Harrold, CHILD’s director of operations. “But the kids are having a riot. There is a mutual benefit for both the pilots and the kids.”
Peter Dohan watched as his son, Bobby, received pointers from retired Lt.-Col. and former Snowbird leader Dan Dempsey on the Hawk One Sabre and a short history lesson on what it was used for.
“It’s great to get out and see other people are affected by the same thing,” said Peter Dohan, adding that Bobby has Crohn’s disease. “It can be a fairly isolating condition to deal with. This is a very uniting experience.”
For Willrich, it’s an opportunity to show the young admirers they can reach whatever heights they choose if they work hard.
“We show them we’re just regular people from different walks of life who work hard and are out here to have some fun. Hopefully we can motivate some kids to do the same. It doesn’t have to be flying.”
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