By Nicole Matheson

It was a clear brisk winter morning as the immense swaths of hot air balloon fabric were spread out evenly along the ground. Crews moved about busily stretching the sides as the heat from the fire began to breathe life into the picturesque shape.

Onlookers invariably question what it must be like to travel so high, untethered from the ground, and some, even wonder if they would have the courage to travel so high given the chance. The woven baskets stood straight, waiting for two special guests Wednesday, guests who have conquered more than most in life, yet, had one more dream to fulfill.

Robert Chase, far right, prepares for his first hot air balloon flight. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Robert Chase and Ronda Sardo were the guests of honor Wednesday as they watched the crews work diligently to make this moment come to life. Aside from flying in a hot air balloon for the first time, Chase and Sardo, each from different walks of life, share a common thread, cancer. Both suffer advanced stages of metastatic melanoma and have summoned the courage to keep fighting.

Sardo, a 20-year resident of Lake Havasu City, was diagnosed on April 2, 2019, with stage four metastatic melanoma. “It spread to my liver, both lungs, diaphragm and lower back. I’ve had two neck surgeries where they removed the whole left side of my neck because the cancer grew into it,” says Sardo, who has spent a great deal of time at the Mayo Clinic receiving treatment.

Taking Flight

Taking flight in a hot air balloon has been something Sardo has thought about for a while. “I’ve always wanted to do it, I see them floating around all the time, but I just never really was able to.”

Evie Reusch, along with her husband balloon pilot Al, suprise Sardo in her home Saturday with a hot air balloon ride and a tshirt. However, due to winds on Saturday, the flight was rescheduled for Wednesday. Jillian Danielson/RIverScene

Sardo’s husband Mike reached out, with the assistance of friends, in order to get in contact with balloon pilots Al and Evie Reusch and see if they could help make a dream come true. Weather and travel had been an issue with previous arrangements but Wednesday, pilots and crews galvanized to take to the skies.

“I’m excited! I’m thrilled! The thought of just floating in the sky so peacefully,” Sardo said. She said she was looking forward to, “Just looking at Havasu from the sky.”

In response to the outpouring of effort Sardo said, “People pulled together and were so kind and considerate, and these people to come and take us up like this, just because? It warms my heart.”

Pilot Debbi Waltman and her husband, Don, who is acting crew chief, were the team to take Scardo into the skies.

Ronda Sardo, pilot Debbi Waltmat, and Mike Sardo pose for a photo before takeoff. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Once In A Lifetime Experience

Chase, like his friend Sardo also had friends that reached out for help which prompted this experience. “I’m super stoked right now,” said Chase, who also was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, “I’m not nervous at all. I’ve jumped out of helicopters and stuff in the military but this is a whole other ball game.”

Chase gets ready to take off in a hot air balloon for the first time Wednesday. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Chase has lived in Lake Havasu city off and on since ’93, and is originally from Massachusetts. “All these years these guys have been down here, I always get up on my roof and watch them. It’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences.”

Balloon pilot Cliff Skocdopole and his wife Sheri, who acts as crew chief, had the privilege of taking Chase to new heights above Lake Havasu City.

Chase rides in a hot air balloon for the first time with pilot Cliff Skocdopole Wednesday morning. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

“We were honored to have him in our basket. He’s quite a fighter,” Sheri Skocdopole said of the couple’s flight with Chase.

Expressing Their Gratitude

After the ride Chase was swept up in emotional gratitude. “To the pilot and crew and anyone else involved I would like to say thank you and I appreciate everything everyone did to make this happen. This will most definitely be a memory that will never be forgotten, and a memory that will never be replaced! Words can’t express how this balloon flight made me feel,” he said.

Equally moved, Sardo shared her overwhelming thankfulness. “I can’t thank you enough. That was the most amazing, peaceful, a little scary at first, thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t want to land. You can’t wipe the smile off my face right now. The balloon pilots were so informative and fun. I am so blessed to have people like you in my life.”

Chase takes off in a hot air balloon Wednesday morning. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Mike Sardo kisses his wife before she takes off in a hot air balloon for the first time. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

Mike Sardo sends his wife, Ronda, into the sky for her first hot air balloon ride Wednesday. Jillian Danielson/RiverScene

 

Robert Chase, pilot Cliff Skocdopole and his crew share in a traditional toast after Chase’s first flight. photo courtesy Sheri Skocdopole.


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