After decades of determination a young Clarenville man's dream to soar among the clouds is now reality. Jagard Strong, who has type 1 diabetes, recently earned his commercial pilot’s license.
The 25 year-old had longed to be a pilot, since falling in love with flying at a young age.
But Strong was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was six years old.
He remembers quickly adapting to the condition.
“Coming up through school, it was different.”
He laughs when he thinks back to actually being pleased in Grade 1 he had “a fantastic illness to have.”
Strong says he was proud to show off his dietary restrictions and insulin regimen to his classmates.
He eventually wore a pump to regulate his insulin intake and maintained a healthy, active lifestyle as well.
“Even now, I enjoy outdoor activities — hiking and biking — I’ve never, ever let it slow me down.”
However, Strong told The Packet he worried diabetes would limit his career options as a pilot.
Since 2002, he explained, pilots with existing type 1 diabetics were grandfathered in their commercial licenses. However, new pilots with the condition weren’t being accepted.
Strong says safety was the rationale for the restriction. With commercial travel, it was also to ensure an emergency situation with a pilot would not arise.
Since a recent change in regulations, Strong says Transport Canada now allows people with type 1 diabetes to be commercial pilots — with certain safety restrictions.
Under new criteria, there are failsafes to make sure an emergency situation doesn’t occur. Aside from stringently monitoring diet and glucose levels, and meeting medical standards for pilots, diabetic pilots are never partnered on flights with another diabetic pilot.
The change in regulations gave Strong his chance to pursue his dream.
Strong’s love of flying had never wavered. It was born from the connection to his father from his younger years.
Strong remembers when his dad, who held a private pilot's licence, bought a floatplane, touching down on the water in Musgravetown.
“I was awestruck … I was just taken by it.”
In 2014, Strong became an electrician like his dad. Working in that trade, he continued his love of flying, doing a “discovery flight” in Gander in 2015.
Strong and his dad also worked to restore a plane.
“Every pilot will tell you the same, once you get up in the air, it’s a whole different feeling than being on the ground.”
Strong got his private pilot license in early 2017.
He argued to become a commercial pilot at Transport Canada tribunal hearings over the years, but that process became too expensive to continue once courts and lawyers’ fees came into play.
“I reached my maximum at the time,” he remembers, putting his dream of flying on hold.
In February 2019, sitting in his car, scrolling through Facebook, he noticed a news item about an Alberta man with diabetes, Austen McDonald, who became a commercial pilot. Strong instantly knew he had to complete his own path.
“As soon as I seen that, it was a no-brainer for me.”
He began the process right away.
He went to flight school in Gander until October 2019. But reaching his goal meant accumulating enough flight hours by the end of the year. Since Newfoundland weather often doesn’t always cooperate, Strong finished up his log book with Cornwall Aviation in Ontario.
Strong says the owner of that operation, Dave Small, empathized with him because his own daughter has diabetes.
Over the course of just six days in December, Strong finished his commercial license training. Normally this would take up to 14 weeks. He also received a couple other piloting endorsements.
Now he’s been looking at job opportunities in the commercial field.
“It’s what I set out to start the commercial license for and it’s exactly where I want to go.”
Strong says he’s glad to let others know that people with his condition aren’t limited.
He hopes his story will inspire other young people with diabetes, who want to get involved with this type of career, to pursue their dreams.
To help that along, he has another goal, to meet with young diabetics and their parents, to talk about about how they don’t have to be restricted by the condition.
“I’m the prime example of thinking that I could never be something. Here I am today telling you that I am what I wanted to (be) since I was a very young age.”