Every high school student knows the importance of capturing the perfect shot in their senior portraits. This singular snap will serve as the stamp that shows who they are – athlete, cheerleader, science wizard, or smooth operator. This one picture will find its way into a yearbook, stuck on pin boards, taped in lockers, forever emblazing that student’s identity for a lifetime.
The senior photo shoot is, arguably, one of the most important days in a high school student’s life.
In so many ways, Dylan Lorence, an 18-year-old senior at Auburndale High School in Auburndale, Wisconsin, is just like his classmates. Entering his senior year, he admits he can’t wait to pull pranks on the underclassmen and faculty alike. He’s excited to just fit in and be “one of the guys.”
However, Dylan has a unique challenge that makes him stand out from the crowd. He’s battling Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1) – an extremely rare genetic condition which has built up large pockets of painful tumors inside his legs, attacking the nerve endings and making even the slightest movement excruciatingly painful. He can’t walk, is bound to a motorized wheelchair, and requires frequent doses of hefty medication to mitigate his pain. His condition has limited much of what he can do physically, but mentally, he’s sharp, quick-thinking, and incredibly curious.
Dylan is a self-described aviation aficionado that enjoys the sensation of flight, even though NF1 has kept him grounded by the realities of his condition for most of his life. He took a trip to Florida a few years back through the Make a Wish Foundation, and vividly replays in his mind the time he spent looking out the window. The sounds, the sensations, the jostling in his seat as the plane took off, maneuvered through the air, and ultimately landed, are all on a mental loop.
Dylan knew at an early age that he wanted to be a pilot, but given his condition, that could not become a reality. So, it only seemed fitting that for his senior portraits, Dylan wanted to find a way to capture his love for aviation with his award-winning smile. Living about 75 minutes away from the Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA) in Mosinee, Wisconsin, where his aunt Lisa Zellner works, a plan was put into motion to host Dylan’s senior photo shoot at Endeavor Air’s CWA maintenance hangar.
“We’ve never hosted an event like this, but as a part of the northern Wisconsin community, we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Bob Peterson, Base Manager, CWA, Endeavor Air. “Our team at CWA made sure to have an airplane positioned for Dylan’s big day, and we had a team of about 10 employees ready to do whatever it took to make this a memorable day for Dylan and his family.”
Working with the CWA Operations team, Endeavor TechOps and Scheduling teams, as well as Delta Air Lines, the team welcomed Dylan, his family, and his photographer to the Endeavor hangar on Wednesday evening. Dylan was given a tour of the hangar, asked lots of questions – he was very curious about how to power up an aircraft – and ultimately got to spend more than an hour exploring and taking pictures inside and out of a Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft.
The Endeavor team surprised Dylan before his photo shoot with a plaque recognizing him as an honorary First Officer with Endeavor Air, which included a set of pilot wings and epaulets. Dylan’s dream of becoming a pilot, if only for a day, was made a reality.
“For the first time in as long as we can remember, Dylan is speechless,” Larry Lorence, Dylan’s father, told those assembled inside the hangar. “He’s going to remember this for a long, long time.”
After the photo shoot wrapped up, Dylan was given a chance to roll alongside the aircraft by himself. As he took the time to take in the contours of the airplane, he ran his fingers along the wings and fuselage. His eyes seemed to open as wide as possible in an attempt to take in as much of the aircraft as he could, for as long as he could. He was making memories that will surely be added to his mental playlist.
“I’m really glad that you brought everyone over here and let me see your plane,” Dylan said in a message to Endeavor employees. “This was the first time I ever got to do something like that and I really appreciate it. I wish I could be there and say thank you in person.”
To learn more about Neurofibromatosis Type 1, please visit the Children’s Tumor Foundation’s website. Dylan has also started a Facebook group – called “Life in a Wheelchair” – that offers support, advice, and conversation for anyone living in a wheelchair.