Within My Grasp: Mike Penketh with Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March
Every story has its own beginning, middle and end. Life does too. Some start out by being born to two great parents, going to school, graduating college and hopefully engaging in a career that is fulfilling and rewarding. But, not every story has a happy ending and some stories change midstream when the main character encounters an obstacle, roadblock or villain and needs to find a way to overcome these with the help of minor characters or his/her sheer will to succeed and forge ahead. This story begins with a man who loved life, flying planes, taking risks and enjoyed the fun of the open air, competitions, racing cars, and exploring new avenues.
One morning you get up and you text a message to your wife, you wash the dishes to surprise her and you take her car to the car wash to get it cleaned. You wave at your neighbor, you flag down a cab to take you back home while you not only get the car washed but detailed too. You make a simple phone call on your cell phone. You unlock you car door with the remote and you enter your house with a simple key. That was today and then there is tomorrow.
Deciding to enter a car-racing contest Mike Pinkest never thought that his life would change. His car crashed on the Salt Flats and the rest was like a nuclear blast that had a fall out with tragic results. Imagine walking up in a hospital and hearing the voices of the doctors and not able to respond. Induced coma or sleep would help his injuries heal but it did not stop him from hearing every word that was said, trying to figure out how to respond and wanting to know what was being done to him and why. Today he could race a car, fly a plane and make simple phone call and in flash he could not. Both of his hands were gone and so badly injured they had to be amputated plus he had a traumatic brain injury compounding things even more and making his recovery questionable. As you hear Mike tell this incredibly amazing story, real life, not fiction, you hear his voice, feel his frustrations and applaud his successes as he would never give up on himself and what you are about to learn as I write this review will astound adult readers, young children, teens and seniors helping everyone realize that you too can attain your goals and live every day With Your Own Grasp if you have the drive and will to succeed.
As we take a trip back in time along with Mike as he reflects on his life as a child we learn about his passion for planes, the fact that his parents encouraged him to become curious, learn about planes and share the information even in kindergarten and share his knowledge with his teachers and friends is truly remarkable. Imagine being allowed to create his own planes, build them and call his bedroom the airplane factory. But this is just the prologue or beginning of the story there is much more. Mike had drive and airplanes were just one of his passions playing baseball was the next. With the help of his father he managed to become not a third baseman as he was told he would have but a pitcher. Mike till this day does not take No for an answer and strives to succeed at everything he does and never considers his limitations as a drawback.
The 50’s and 60’s were an exciting time for him as he played ball, drove race cars, hot rods, tons of girls that came and went and of course his strong desire and will to become an airline pilot. Spending time at many airports, going through numerous training programs and finally enlisting in the Marines when he could not get a job with a major airline, Mike did it all, put in the time and went through the training in the marines, followed by Officers Candidate School and enrolling in an Aviation Scholarship Program. Throughout the chapter titled Nuclear Weapons and Napalm you the reader will enter his world, go through the many flights, training and join him as he weaves his way through skies and gets his wings. So, imagine what happens when after all is said and done he can no longer fly.
Trips to the Philippines, West Pac Tour, and getting discharged in 1975 from the Marines his life had just begun and the next step was fighting fires from the air as he became a flight instructor and then became hooked on the fire fighting industry which brought him into dangerous situations, meeting some great people and making many new friends. The picture on page 72 says it all. Chapter Four is exciting as he relates his training, becoming a fire fighter pilot and the loss of a great friend. Next, he takes several trips to South America and flying with the fire bombers and the descriptions are so vivid you feel as if you in the air with him. The Department of the Interior Contract funded the South American Research Project and what he describes was exciting and flying a Corsairs his ultimate dream. The story really comes alive when you see the amazing photos that Marti Smiley Childs includes on pages 107, 112, 115 and 117. But the authors also include when he landed a job with Air Cal and his introduction to Aerobatics. But, the real story is how he fought so hard to get his pilot’s license back, the hard road he walked, the steps he took, the support of his wife Mary Ann Harr and the many missteps that came before and after.
But, not everything in this story is the way you would hope it would be and when the main character faces a villain or a conflict he/she has to find a way to beat the odds, win at all costs and hope for a great ending. When the harsh reality of what happened to him finally set in Mike had several avenues that he could travel.
One marriage that dissolved and another that would take him to new heights, make him realize true loyalty and find someone with as much drive within her to help him prevail and succeed as he had. Chapter 9 brings it all into perspective as he describes the crash and the end result of having hand amputations and the next step in the story. Atrophy and other obstacles are described in Chapter 10 as the author shares his inner most fears, thoughts and his life spent in the University of Utah Medical Center and the work they did to bring him to the point of being released and going to the University of California Davis, Medical Center. But the road to recovery was not quite paved, as he had to first learn how to deal with daily life and then decide whether to take the road to having hooks attached to his stumps or pushing the doctors for a prescription for myolelectic body powered prosthetics. His desire to fly and never give up is what propelled him. New hands, learning to use them and becoming more independent took time, determination and definitely patience on the part of Mary Ann. Describing the simple tasks within Chapter 11 reminds readers that carrying a trays, brushing your teeth or even drinking from a glass which we all do and not think about are some of the tasks he had to relearn. The inventive ways he managed to change a print cartridge, drive a car, get his license and go through every test, trial and course to get a reissuance of his third class FAA certificate and his private pilot’s license lets you know that he was not done yet and flying was in his blood and he would not stop until he was back in the air. Winning the battle he decided to have someone build him a plane and become more involved in aerobatics once again.
After all the tests, trials and the rest he regained his license and then joined a program called the Touch Of Understanding after going to the Hope School and seeing the disabled children and realizing just what an impact they made on him and how they managed to smile despite their disabilities. This trip to this school and Africa would start him on a road that he would never veer off and his voice became and still is powerful as we learn more about the program, hear his enthusiastic discussions with the children, enjoy his sense of humor and the impact he made not only on the children but on the adults too. As an educator who taught students with learning disabilities and always reminding them that you will succeed and can if you set up mind to it and never give up, this program is not only valuable but should be worldwide.
This daredevil, this man who lost his hands but not his spirit not only regained his license, became a spokesperson for Touch of Understanding, learned about Canine Companions for Independence and the many dogs that needed homes and how they would help him, Mike’s unwavering tenacity, persistence and love of life comes through on every page.
Within My Grasp: Anything is with you reach, grasp or ability to succeed if you don’t give up and decide that You can Do it! Never take NO for an answer and understand that just because you might not be able to do everything you want does not mean you cannot do the one thing that means the world to you. So, how does this story end? It does not it is still going on as Mike relates in the Epilogue what he is doing now, what he has learned and summarizes his life and his future. We meet Magy, Joyce and Taylor who play a great part in his life and if you want to know just who they are and how he met them you are going to have to read this outstanding memoir. Told in the first person you hear Mike’s voice on every page and every step of the way as the story began with his early life, dealing with adversity and still going on as he states in the last sentence: “Life is Good.” You are so right.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer
Let’s dedicate this to all those children out there that might be different on the outside but will learn that we are the same on the inside and never give up. To my cousin Dr. Mark Swerdloff, a double amputee (Lost both legs) one of the top oral surgeons in the world. I dedicate this to you.