From Fight to Flight: An Air Race Survivor's Story - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

From Fight to Flight: An Air Race Survivor's Story

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Six years ago, a plane crash at the Reno Air Races killed the pilot on board and 10 spectators. The devastating wreck also injured 69 others on that fateful day, and one of the individuals who was hurt, is back at the air races this year.

The story of Jason Barksdale begins in a moment that many people would like to forget. But even as he'll tell you, sometimes the most difficult memories must be relived in order to move on and grow stronger.

Barksdale remembers September 16th, 2011 like it was yesterday. He can still see and hear the sights and sounds of fear from those around him. He says some people choose to forget, but for him, that day has become a piece of who he is.

“One of the unlimited’s ended up having a malfunction in the air, and he ended up crashing into the crowd or crashing directly in front of me, and he hurt me rather seriously,” said Barksdale. “When I looked down, I could see most of the bones in my left leg, I could see where it came out of my knee and where it went back in, but it was just kind of open in between, there was a large piece of metal here, and I was having a little trouble breathing."

Jason was placed into a medically induced coma. He suffered from a punctured lung, had seven procedures to remove debris from his body, and many other surgeries that would hopefully allow him to walk again someday.

"I spent seven months in recovery, and then two years in physical therapy afterward and three years in other therapies and stuff."

But he kept fighting. Jason was determined to not only walk, but to return to the Reno Air Races.

"We were sitting at the races and the unlimited had just finished in 2013 and I looked over at my dad and I said dad, you're going to think I’m crazy but I kind of want to race and he looked at me without skipping a beat and he said, “How can I make that happen?"

It took Jason five years to get medically cleared, but after years of perseverance, he's now competing in the event that nearly killed him.

"I went to a couple of the experienced race pilots and told them who I was and what I wanted to do and a few of them took me under their wing and got me going, got me started and now here I am."

This year, Jason is a rookie where he’s flying Tony the Tiger in the formula one bronze class. As his friends and family will say, Jason is much more than just a pilot, he's a survivor.

"Don't quit, don't give up, it took me a long time to get back to it."

Jason says he isn't competing to win, and he isn't trying to prove any points. He just wants to be in a plane doing what he loves, after one fateful day nearly took it all away.

"This year is about me figuring out the race course and how to do the things that they do and just how to become a better pilot,” said Barksdale. "Being on the course with some of the most experienced guys in the world as far as aviation is concerned is a very humbling feeling, it was just incredible, I had the biggest smile on my face when I came back down."

Jason finished his first heat race on Thursday. He'll start 3rd in the formula one bronze class event Saturday at 8 a.m.

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