It's been a long and, at times, turbulent journey for 26-year-old Mitchell Casado.
A registered pilot who one day aspires to fly for a commercial airline, Casado learned Monday morning that he's among nine competitors in the running to become Canada's Top Amateur Pilot for 2007.
"I'm totally thrilled. I'm beside myself," said Casado, highlighting that determination and persistence eventually pay off.
"I took a risk and believed in myself."
On July 11, Casado was away on business when he underwent a flight test for the prestigious John C. Webster Memorial Trophy Competition at British Columbia's Victoria International Airport.
A national contest, Dr. J.C. Webster created the event in 1932 in honour of his son John, who lost his life in an aircraft accident in St. Hubert, Quebec while practicing to represent Canada in an aerobatic flying competition.
Put on hold in 1954 due to rising costs, The Canadian Sport Aeroplane Association, which promotes sport aviation in Canada, resurrected the event in 1980 with the sponsorship of Air Canada.
For Casado, a Scarborough resident until just over a year ago when he relocated to Mississauga, the competition is much more than a flying contest, it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
"I've never known a time when I didn't want to be a pilot. At the age of seven I just fell in love with flying," said Casado, who attended Cardinal Newman Catholic High School in Scarborough.
Falling on hard times, Casado struggled for several years and was even homeless for a time but never gave up on his dreams.
"I was that kid that no one really bothered with. Especially in the school days, I didn't get a lot of support," he said, admitting that math and science weren't his strongest subjects.
"I never let anyone tell me I couldn't do it. I've always felt determined to follow my goals."
Crediting the love and support of his girlfriend of nine years, Debbie, Casado worked extra hard and obtained his pilot's license "the hard way" in late 2002.
"Being a pilot for me was a very difficult thing. It's kind of a Cinderella story," said Casado, who obtained his pilot's license hour by hour as he could afford it.
More determined than ever, Casado will spend the next month studying and "chair flying" in preparation for the Webster Competition's finals, which take place in Ottawa from Aug. 22 to 25.