Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Alex Czerwinski: Corporate pilot impacted by church when his life hits bottom

Columbia corporate pilot Alex Czerwinski stands next to a Pilatus PC-12 airplane at Columbia Regional Airport. Czerwinski often flies members of Veterans United and MU Athletics as a pilot for Ozark Management. 

COLUMBIA – Alex Czerwinski found his calling during a family vacation to the Bahamas when he was 17.

When his family got off the plane at the small airport, the pilot was standing outside the terminal smoking a cigarette. Czerwinski decided to approach him and express his interest in flying.

That conversation convinced Czerwinski that he, too, wanted to be a pilot. 

In the past three and a half years, Czerwinski has flown nearly everywhere in the United States, from New York City to Los Angeles, and even to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. In October, he began working for Wes Stricker and Ozark Management where he flies private flights for local businesses. 

He has also recently been certified to fly his dream plane — the Gulfstream G4, a luxury high-speed, high-altitude jet that most pilots don't fly until late in their careers.

At 26, Czerwinski seems to be well ahead of the career curve. 

"I'm pretty lucky to be where I'm at as early as I've gotten there," he said. "There's not a lot of younger guys flying these kind of planes. I am very blessed to be in the situation I'm in."

Blessed is a word that Czerwinski uses often , though his path hasn't always been this smooth. When he was 17, he thought becoming a pilot would make him financially successful right out of college. This wasn't quite the case. 

Czerwinski's father lost his job during the 2008 recession. Czerwinski quickly began racking up student loan debt to help pay for college and flight school. Then, his first job out of school didn't pay what he expected. 

"I kind of set myself up to be in a financial down point," Czerwinski said. "From that, it put me into a pretty rough spot for a while." 

Czerwinksi earned an associate's degree in aviation science from Northwestern Michigan College while simultaneously attending flight school. He began to search for jobs just as the economy went into a tailspin in 2008. 

For a year and a half, he gave flight lessons in Jefferson City before landing a job as a corporate pilot with Independent Stave Co., which makes oak barrels for craft distilleries around the world.  

Still, he was struggling to earn enough money to live on while also paying off his steep student loans. A few months later, however, things got worse. He sued his landlord for stealing his security deposit.

The landlord managed to counter-sue and win, costing Czerwinski even more money. Around this time, his car broke down; he and his girlfriend separated; and the student loans remained. Life seemed to be falling apart from every direction.  

His good friend and fellow pilot, John Abbott – whom he met while working as a flight instructor in Jefferson City – suggested Czerwinski live with him until he could get back on his feet.

After dozens of conversations about life, money and relationships, Abbott invited Czerwinski to go to a service at The Crossing, a community church in south Columbia, with him. Abbott claimed it was the best decision he had ever made.

Czerwinski went and found exactly what he was looking for. 

"All of a sudden, he had a reason to live, versus asking 'Why am I alive? Why am I here? Why am I stressed out and miserable all the time?' " Abbott said. "Watching him grow up has just been — wow." 

Since then, Czerwinski has climbed out of debt, moved into his own place and volunteers his free time helping others confronting similar situations through various ministries. He says he has learned to rid his heart of selfish pride and to give all the credit to the God he now believes in. 

"There were times where I wasn't able to afford a lot, things like my rent and food. I really hit rock bottom and gave up," Czerwinski said. "But now, in hindsight, I am so grateful because it opened my eyes to so many different things. I finally put my faith where it needed to be." 

Czerwinski now regularly attends services and is involved in a variety of Bible studies and outreach ministries. 

"If he says he's going to show up, he's going to be there. If we have a meeting scheduled, he's there. You can count on him," said Greg Early, a member of a leadership team at The Crossing that runs the men's group, Men of Impact.

"He's got a real heart for people. I see him as a young man beginning to learn what it means to be a disciple." 

Attending the Men of Impact group at The Crossing has helped Czerwinski at the time of his life he needed it most, he said.

"I never knew God before the last year or so of my life. I feel like he's called me at exactly the right time," he said. "Looking back on it now, his hand was in my life for a long time. Realizing that and seeing that now is amazing." 

Czerwinksi says his work ethic has perhaps benefited the most. He no longer works hard to impress his boss or to feel the luxuries of success. 

"When it comes down to it, I make sure that I glorify God by working hard to honor him," he said. "Through that, I've done some of the best work that I've ever done." 

His new work ethic applies to everything he does, from flying around the country down to making it a habit to keep his house clean to the best of his ability. This new work ethic hasn't gone unnoticed, either. 

"He's my co-pilot now, and we have a lot of religious conversations together," Abbott said. "He has really turned things around from where he was."

Czerwinski now makes it a priority to identify times in his life when he is feeling down or worried like he once did. He has set goals and can now recognize when he is not pursuing them the way he should be. Looking back at the past few years of his life in which he struggled the most, Czerwinski says he wouldn't change a thing.

"In hindsight, I am absolutely grateful for student loans. I know if I didn't have that sort of struggle, I probably would have never started going to church. They were used in a way to draw me closer to him," he said. "I would do it all over again."

Story and Photo:

No comments:

Post a Comment