He once built a flight simulator in his basement to practice flying.
He sails through the night across Lake Michigan to enjoy the view.
When tornado sirens sound, he drives toward the storm and not away.
When his grandparents visit for the weekend, he flies them back home.
He’s not the bearded spokesman for Dos Equis, but he is Brookfield East senior Ben Roy, and his stories may rival what others see on the popular commercial.
At the age of 19, Roy has collected a scrapbook of thrilling experiences thicker than most folks four times his age.
“I do unusual stuff I guess. I like to set goals and work very hard to achieve them. A lot of people say that’s not going to happen, but I often use people’s criticism or doubts as fuel to stay motivated.”
His story isn’t so much about the experiences themselves, but the drive and will power to make them happen.
“There will always be people talking about how hard something is, that you won’t accomplish it, or it will be too hard. But you need determination and really you can do anything you set your mind to,” Roy said.
The adventures started for Roy when he went fly fishing with his relatives in Canada, and the group flew into their fishing spot on a seaplane. On the way back, the pilot let him take the reigns, and he was hooked from there on. Roy started taking his pilot classes at the age of 14.
As a sixth-grader, Roy constructed a complete cockpit simulator in his basement complete with gauges and monitors to practice flight skills. He taught himself how to put it all together.
Roy flies a four-seat Cessna 172, and flew his grandparents home to Dayton, OH after they visited the family. In fact, Roy is heading to Lewis University next year and hopes to become an air traffic controller. He’s already earned some credits for school by obtaining his license. The university has an airport on campus.
“I love flying, and it’s something I hope to do the rest of my life,” he said.
And with the recent news of air traffic tower closures, Roy has a firsthand perspective of the issue.
“It’s taking away a large safety net,” Roy said. “There are a lot of pilots, but also commercial jets that come in and out of Waukesha. They help sequence and keep us coordinated. Without them, it’s on the pilot to spot traffic, which can be intimidating for new pilots.”
Driving Into the Storm
Not coincidentally, this week is Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week. Believe me, Roy is more than aware of stormy weather. In fact, he hunts it.
Roy has retrofitted his suburban with a computer desk in the back, and numerous switches and monitors in the front. The suburban is the command vehicle, and a team of storm chasers monitors navigation points, weather radar, and other streaming information to position themselves in a spot catch a glimpse of a tornado.
Don’t worry, Roy is a certified weather spotter. He also studied how to read radar, and install the navigation tools on his own.
“We were chasing a tornado near Oshkosh, and our radar went out,” Roy said. “We put ourselves right in the thick of it and were pounded by rain, wind, and hail. We haven’t caught a tornado on camera yet.”
Roy plans to head down south to Tornado Alley to catch some good footage. But why does he do it? It’s just for fun.
“We were terrified at the time, but it was a lot of fun. Collecting all the data and identify where a tornado may be is really a good feeling,” Roy said.
Taming the Lake and Fighting Fires
Apart from the rest, Roy also recently became a volunteer firefighter with the Elm Grove Fire Department.
He said boredom might have been a reason to join the department.
Let that sink in a minute.
“Training, staying in shape, the adrenaline rush when the pager goes off,” Roy said.
While the fire department puts out flames with water, Roy is also spends time navigating bodies of water. He teaches sailing at the Milwaukee Yacht Club, and sails the big-boat races on Wednesday nights during summer.
He runs the Queen’s Cup annually from Milwaukee to Michigan. It’s an overnight race across Lake Michigan. He was part of nine-man crew last year, and was spent all night on the side of the boat balancing as it was keeling.
“There was a thunderstorm south, and the sky was flashing all night with lightning. It was very beautiful, but tense at the same time,” Roy said.
The adventures are bound to continue for Roy, but his can-do attitude will stick with him for a lifetime. In fact, he’s preparing for a half marathon next January from Disney World.