At 60 years old, and having lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 16 years, Mike Barker of Ahwahnee knows that it is too late to die young, so he is making the best of the time he has left.
Not only is Barker living his life to the fullest, but he hopes that he can lead others by example and encourage them to do the same.
“I follow my dreams, and if I’m going to give advice, I’d say follow your dreams, life is too short,” said Barker on Thursday on the tarmac of the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport, as he set next to a plane that he just flew, without the use of his legs or right arm.
Barker was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1995. The disease forced him to give up the career he loved and some every-day privileges many take for granted, such as driving, but hope is not among the things he has given up.
A career pilot, Barker worked first as a crop duster in the Central Valley for nine years before becoming a commercial pilot. He did that for nine years, but had to give it up for safety reasons in 1997.
“I asked my doctor how long I had before I become what I call a total invalid, and she said five to six years, and I decided life is too short,” Barker said. “So I wanted to go out and compact as much life into the time I have left as I can.”
With that mind set, Barker and his daughter set out in 2000 to learn to fly gliders, and recently, he decided that he wanted to get back into the cockpit at least a few times a year.
With his wife taking a trip to Washington, D.C. this past week, Barker and his brother, Bob, made a trip to Bishop to meet up with local flight instructor Jeff Pope and get Mike back in the air.
With Pope working the foot peddles, Barker was able to fly, and he and Pope were able to take a trip over Bishop Pass and see some sights over the Sierra Crest.
“I love Bishop and I love the Sierra and flying over the mountains,” said Barker, who maintains a light-hearted sense of humor and keeps a smile on his face. “I call it mountain climbing for cripples. People get too hung up on the security thing, but you’ve got to do the things you love.”
Barker said his condition has been beneficial to him both mentally and spiritually, because it has provided rare insight into people’s better nature.
“Most people are so kind and willing to help, and that makes me an optimist about the future,” he said, speaking not of himself, but of America as a whole. “People in my position can either implode with selfishness and self pity, or explode with God’s love. I want to try to encourage as many people as I can.”
After his flight Thursday, Barker had nothing but praise for Bishop’s airport staff, Pope and the local community, repeatedly thanking Pope and Eastern Sierra Regional Airport Lead Technician Ken Babione for their help and support.