Simply Inspirational

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Last month, during a memorial service for ICAS member and air show performer Jon Thocker, Jon’s adult daughter, Haley, said that her dad believed that people didn’t do anybody any favors by living life small. He taught her that it’s a good thing to be nervous about your own dreams and goals, because that means they’re big. And Haley said she felt lucky to have had a dad who left her with those kinds of life lessons. During that same service, one of Jon’s close personal friends observed that he was a man with a big, generous personality…the kind of person you’re lucky to meet once in your life.

Despite the circumstances, I was pleased, but not surprised to hear how those closest to Jon felt about him… pleased because it was encouraging to see how much of an impact Jon had on the lives of people who knew him…not surprised because this is the kind of impact air show pilots frequently have, not just on friends and family, but on all of the people with whom they interact.

For the last several months, I’ve had this nagging thought that the air show community perhaps doesn’t recognize as well as it should that the people who work in this industry are in the business of inspiration. Millions of people come to our events each year to be entertained and to be amazed at what our performers can do with an airplane. But they also want to be inspired. And, every weekend between late March and early November, air show professionals do that for them.

When Jon Thocker’s friend said that he felt lucky to have known somebody as passionate and so full of life as Jon, I found myself nodding in agreement. Then, after a few minutes, it occurred to me that I am fortunate to know dozens, perhaps hundreds of people with that kind of energy, enthusiasm and irrepressible zest for life. I think it is part of what makes air shows so popular and compelling…the idea that our performers can do something so exciting and difficult…that they can excel and succeed right there for everybody to see…and that they are so eager to share what they do with others.

During my two decades with ICAS, I have heard the testimonials dozens of times. “That’s when I decided I would join the Air Force.” Or “I made a promise to myself that day that I would learn to fly.” Or even, “Watching her fly that way helped me realize that I could do [fill in the blank].” Inspiring people is as much a part of our winning formula as aerobatic maneuvers, the static ramp or souvenirs.

As we prepare for this year’s ICAS Convention and the 2019 air show season, I urge all ICAS members to recognize this role that air shows play as a source of inspiration and the impact that this has on air show spectators and fans. And I encourage all of us to see this not as some incidental byproduct of our business, but as a critical, essential element of the public’s fascination with our events.

Haley Thocker was talking about her father, but she could have just as easily been talking about the entire air show business when she said, “This world is big…there are so many people to meet, so many hearts to have an impact on… Don’t be afraid to go after the dreams that set your heart on fire.”

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John Cudahy
John Cudahy, ICAS President. | John Cudahy first joined ICAS as the organization's president in June of 1997. He has worked his entire 36-year professional career in association management, including more than two decades as the chief executive officer of ICAS. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Cudahy holds a private pilot certificate and is married with two adult children.