Navy dreams take flight for small town hero

Special Reports

SCHAGHTICOKE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In a time when big dreams are being put on the back burner, one upstate mom wasn’t going to let anything stop her son from getting a chance to fly. Atop a hill in a rural town in upstate New York, Stephanie Heslin admitted that her son, Ryan Heslin, has always been a bit different.

“As a little boy he would always drive his little fake cars in the yard and he would pretend he was at a red light and stop and look both ways,” Stephanie said. “That self-discipline, that I don’t have.”

So, when Ryan was determined to become a pilot in the Navy she wasn’t thrilled.

“It’s a scary world out there. And what’s going on with politics and the governments and the world in general, you know, anything can happen,” Stephanie said.

But when Ryan was 17-years-old the unthinkable did happen. He broke his leg and was put in a cast from hip to toe due to a sports injury.

Ryan started to feel pain behind his knee. Initially, Stephanie dismissed the pain as cramps but then decided to take Ryan to the doctor where they found a blood clot in his leg.

Ryan had to take shots every day in the stomach to thin his blood to heal. But years after, he feared the old injury might ruin his dream. Pilot officer candidates not only have to pass difficult educational exams but also rigorous physical tests to qualify as well.

“Yeah, I definitely thought I wasn’t going to get accepted into the aviation program,” Ryan said. “You have to just have the mentality that there is nothing that can stop you but you.”

But Ryan kept his eye on the prize without fail during his remaining teen years and early twenties. He graduated from college at SUNY Oswego Pre-med and even got LASIK surgery to improve his eyesight for flying.

Then after two long years of struggling to get in, Ryan was accepted into Navy Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island for aviation.

“I’m essentially making my dreams come true, making it happen. I’m very fortunate,” Ryan said.

Ryan credits his sheer will but also the person he couldn’t have done it without.

“My mother has been there every step of the way, listening to me complain about the whole process,” Ryan said.

“Even when he would call me and he’s like, it’s week six and it’s really hard and this is coming up and that is coming up. I was just like, you got this,” Stephanie said.

After 16 weeks of academic and physical fitness training, Ryan graduated in a virtual ceremony—making him Ensign Heslin.

Unfortunately, his biggest fan, Mom, couldn’t get out of her nursing shift to watch the graduation live. So, NEWS10 decided to bring the graduation to her so she could watch Ryan walk across the stage.

With tears in her eyes, Stephanie needed to leave the room after seeing her son achieve his goals in a crisp Service Dress Blue uniform.

“I don’t have words. I mean, any little tidbit I’ll take with grace and humility. I mean, it means everything, it’s everything,” Stephanie said.

As for Ryan’s future? Navy Officer or not, he’s still not like the rest of the pack.

“I’m a little bit different than the traditional guy, I’m not trying to fly jets or anything like that. I actually want to fly Ospreys, V-22’s,” Ryan said. “I love the crew concept and I love the mission. So, hopefully, I’ll be doing that soon.”

The same kid from a town of 7,568 people called Schaghticoke, and his mom wants him to remember that.

“Never ever forget where you came from, and keep looking ahead,” Stephanie said.

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