Long before Mark knew what “aeronautical engineering” is, his passion for the subject began to grow as he spent his days playing with toy airplanes and helicopters. Mark quickly developed a knack for taking the toy airplanes apart and putting them back together in a quest to make them fly better. His enthusiasm for aviation continued into his teens, and from 5th grade on, Mark knew he someday wanted to go to the Air Force Academy and become a pilot.
Mark’s life changed, seemingly in the blink of an eye, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2015. Through extended hospital stays and challenging treatments, his enthusiasm for aviation never wavered. When Mark learned he was eligible for a wish and first met with his wish granter volunteers, it didn't take him long to share what his wish was. His wish granter volunteers told him to dream big and reach for the sky, and Mark did just that. He knew his wish was to be a fighter jet pilot.
Meeting with his wish granters and talking about his wish gave Mark something to look forward to, and strengthened his resolve to get better. “He went through a horrible, horrible thing – it was every parent’s worst nightmare – but his wish gave us something to look forward to, to dream about, and it motivated us and kept us going,” shared Mark’s mother, Gwendolyn. “His wish was the light at the end of the tunnel; it was the bow on the big present for us.”
Mark traveled with his mom down to Florida for his wish, the excitement growing with each minute that passed. He kicked off his wish with a visit to MacDill Air Force Base, a day he will not soon forget. From testing out state-of-the-art flight simulators to talking with pilots and even learning survival tactics, each person at the base went above and beyond to make Mark’s experience perfect.
The much-awaited day of Mark’s fighter jet flight arrived, and he was beyond excited. The experience started with learning about the Albatros L-39 fighter jet he would soon be flying in. Soon, they were ready to take off! During the flight, the pilot took Mark through all sorts of dips, turns and flips and Mark’s adrenaline was pumping. Despite the g-force he was feeling, it was hard to miss the enormous smile on his face.
“I have not seen him smile that big and have so much excitement in a very long time. It wasn’t that long ago that he was in the hospital, undergoing treatment, and there was a huge difference in his expressions and attitude,” Gwendolyn said. “He went from fighting his illness to just sheer joy. I cried tears of joy a billion times during the wish just because he was so happy.”
Since he was a little kid, Mark has dreamed of going to the Air Force Academy and becoming a pilot. His wish gave him a taste of what his future could be like, which brought him a renewed focus and determination not only to get better, but to study hard and to get good grades to help him reach his goal. Since his wish, Mark is more confident than ever in the future he’s been imagining for so many years.
“He will never forget the battle he fought with cancer, but he will also never ever forget his wish. It was life-changing.”