Thursday, December 14, 2017

Learning to fly: GoFundMe helping wheelchair-bound student soar toward pilot license

Chris Rasmussen, left, is taking flight lessons from Jared Ver Mulm, right. The flight instructor Ver Mulm is trying to raise money to purchase equipment to allow Rasmussen, who was born with spina bifida, to have full control of the plane during his lessons.

Being confined to a wheelchair hasn't stopped Middle Tennessee State University student Chris Rasmussen from soaring toward his dream to become a pilot.

"I've wanted to be a pilot since I was 2 or 3," said Rasmussem, who has was born with spina bifida, which prevents him from walking.

With 60 hours of flight time logged, he's well on his way to earning certification. But Rasmussen needs a special hand-operated rudder control in order to complete the requirements to fly independently. 

"He has the ability, we just have to adapt things for him," said Jared Ver Mulm, Rasmussen's flight instructor. "He can't use the rudder controls now. So we have to get a hand control for him to be able to use it."

Problem is, the adapter costs around $1,500, which the university student doesn't have.

So he's started a GoFundMe Page to raise money to buy the adapter, which will allow him to control the plane rudders with his hands instead of feet.

Ver Mulm has also been a vocal advocate for his student. Earlier this fall, he vied to win $500 from a contest held by The Tennessean's Ms. Cheap. It's not the first time Ver Mulm has entered the contest. When he was 11, he won the $500 to buy snacks for the waiting room at the Red Cross blood bank.

And helping others is something near and dear to Ver Mulm's heart.

"My little brother has autism. So I've worked with people with special needs before. So I want to do what I can to make sure (Rasmussen) has the tools he needs to get his license. I owe it to him because he's my student," said Ver Mulm, a member of the Air Force Air National Guard.

Right now, Rasmussen is able to operate everything on the plane except the rudders, which Ver Mulm must do. Once they get the part installed, Rasmussen will be able to operate without help from anyone.

Finding the right part hasn't been easy. So far Ver Mulm has only been able to find the part needed from overseas. That means incurring shipping costs. Then there's the cost to have it properly installed. That's why they are asking for additional funds besides the cost of the part.

"I want him to realize his dream. In my case, I wanted to be a pilot when I was 12. Finally working and doing what I love to do is the best feeling in the world. And I want to make sure he gets that opportunity," Ver Mulm said.

While making sure Rasmussen has what he needs is important to Ver Mulm, both are thinking about the big picture for other future pilots.

"If other people see him doing it, they're going to want to give it a shot, too," Ver Mulm said.

Being an inspiration to others is nothing new for Rasmussen. He's been active in a variety of sports over the years. Like flying, he just adapts the activity to suit his needs.

"I've had so many people say I'm an inspiration because I'm always trying to push to see how far I can get in life. I feel by (getting a pilot's license) it will maybe send a message to other people to not give up on what you want to do," Rasmussen said.

Once Rasmussen completes his private pilot certificate, he plans to work for a commercial airline eventually.

"Once I finish school, I want to work for Delta and be a dispatcher, or work for the airlines in some way," Rasmussen said.

If you'd like to help Rasmussen, visit

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