Neil Armstrong once said, “Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.” Justin Meaders, another pilot from the USA whose aircraft was named Quadnickel 45, has a passion for extreme sports and high velocity. You could say he’s addicted to extreme force. Even more remarkable is that he is a pilot with leg paralysis caused by a severe accident many years ago. He is unable to use his legs to control the aircraft, but that has never stopped him.
He continues to be an inspiration and build dreams, to be an inventor and builder of aircraft of his own. He also works with many organizations to help children with disabilities. We will surely see him racing again in the next competition. After our conversation, he sped away on his wheelchair into the burning sun and strong wind, his eyes blinking as if to say: “Your wings already exist, all you have to do is … fly.”
How do you define Justin Meaders?
I try to have a happy, positive outlook on life because we’re all only here on earth a short time and I’d like to make the most of that time. For me, flying is a huge sense of freedom. When I get in an airplane and start rolling down the runway, all my worries and anything else is left behind as soon as the wheels leave the ground. All I’m thinking about is flying and enjoying that time. I think you really become one with the airplane and use it as an extension of your body. I can’t get enough of flying.
What is the next dream?
Pretty much all my dreams are flying-related or at least influenced by it, but my current dream is finishing up my new race plane that I’m building. It’s going to be a very sleek and fast racer and I hope it helps me win a bunch of races, including when I come back to Thailand. I’m excited about its potential and can’t wait to take it on its first test flight. It’s been a long process so far, but worth every minute I’ve put into it.
Do you think you’ve missed any opportunities?
There are always missed opportunities in life, but you can’t dwell on those. You have to stay positive and focus on the opportunities you can take. Life can be crazy and unpredictable, so be flexible and ready to go wherever it leads you. The less time you spend thinking about things you can’t do and the more time you spend doing things you can the better off you’ll be.
What are you most proud of designing?
My favourite things to build would have to be adaptive sports equipment for kids with disabilities. Things like handcycles and racing wheelchairs. They need a way to be active and as normal as possible and being able to help them do that is a great feeling.
What do you think people misunderstand about you?
That’s a tough question. I think people assume because of the things I do that I’m an adrenaline junkie, but I’m really not. I like the charge a shot of adrenaline gives you, but I really just enjoy the things I do. I like how alive I feel when I’m flying and racing these airplanes. It’s an amazing experience.
Have you ever had a broken heart?
I think everyone has had a broken heart at some point and most of us have had several. I try to learn something from every experience and a broken heart is one of the best to learn from. I try to figure out what happened and how to prevent it in the future.
How do you have fun and what would you like to leave behind?
I don’t think you get to do all the things I’ve been allowed to do without being lucky. It takes a lot of hard work, but good luck and karma play a part too.
I enjoy almost everything I do. I think you have to find the fun in life. Even if what you’re doing isn’t ordinarily fun, if you’re creative you can find a way to make it fun. You can make a game out of almost anything. Sometimes you have to think like a kid, but that’ll help keep you young at heart.
I’d like to think people will see how I lived my life and that I didn’t let challenges and obstacles stop me. That I was a positive person who was always moving forward and achieving goals. Maybe they will apply that to their own life if they need to.
Any words for your Thai fans?
The first thing I’d like to say is thank you for being so great! I’ve never been somewhere with people as kind and courteous and friendly as I met in Thailand. They’re the reason I am looking forward to coming back and they’re the reason I want to fly even faster! Be on the lookout for my new plane next year. It should be much faster and more exciting to watch!