Annie Stemen faced near death as an infant from a liver disease.
On Thursday, the 17-year-old Fairlawn High School teenager literally soared to new heights as a Young Eagle essay winner capturing a ride with world champion aerobatic performer Sean D. Tucker. The legendary aerial performer will fly his high energy aerobatic demonstration at the Vectren Dayton Air Show this weekend at Dayton International Airport.
“He actually let me fly the plane and he let me do a loop,” Stemen, who lives in Sidney, said after her once-in-a-lifetime thrill ride. “It was crazy.”
At 16 months old, she was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, glycogen storage disease 1A, and the prognosis for her survival was dim. When she was a small child, she was connected to a feeding tube. She said she drinks a corn starch mixture every four hours to regulate the blood sugar levels in her body.
“This flight means a lot to me because I could have died when I was very, very young,” she said Thursday.
In her essay she wrote, “I want to go on this flight with Sean D. Tucker because it’s not only a once in a lifetime experience, but because I am a dreamer. As a young girl I was told to reach for the stars and to chase the impossible dreams. One of my lifelong dreams has been to fly among the beautiful clouds, and leave my liver disease and all of the complications that have come with it on the ground.”
She wrote the essay after air show representatives visited the English class of teacher Elizabeth Maxson and asked Fairlawn students to enter the Young Eagles contest.
”Annie’s really a phenomenal writer,” Maxon, 40, said Thursday. “She is very clear with her thoughts. She actually will put all of her thoughts onto paper and go back through her ideas to hone her focus.”
“It was a great paper,” the teacher added. “It came from her heart.”
Maxson and Annie’s, parents Tony and Amy, and about a dozen others, mostly family members, watched her soar Thursday.
“It really is exciting,” said her mother, Amy Stemen, 51. “I’m a little nervous. I’m not going to lie. I said before that I will be real excited when she lands.”
Her father, Tony Stemen, 51, said his daughter had accomplished much at an early age.
“I’m a little awestruck by the event … because it would be cool for any kid or anybody to experience what she’s going to get to experience today,” he said.
Tucker is chairman of Young Eagles, a cadre of about 8,000 volunteer pilots who take 45,000 to 55,000 children between the ages of eight and 17 on their first free flights in an airplane. More than two million youth have flown through the program since it started 25 years ago.
“For me, whether you’re rich of poor, or what color you are in America, if you’re a kid your dreams are relevant,” Tucker said.