Ethan Nauta is getting a second chance to meet his idol, after a generous local donor offered tickets to see hometown hero Chris Hadfield at this year’s Bluewater Health Foundation gala.
“I am absolutely shocked,” said the 15-year-old pilot, who was recently featured in a Sarnia Journal article after earning his solo flying licence.
The story prompted a shout-out from the renowned Canadian astronaut himself, who commended Nauta’s achievement to thousands of followers on social media.
“A solo pilot at 15,” Hadfield posted, along with a link to the story. “Congratulations Ethan, you’re making your dreams take flight!”
Nauta had a chance last summer to meet Hadfield in person during an event but was too star-struck to speak up. That caught the eye of Bluewater Health Foundation executive director Kathy Alexander.
“We recognize our gala is quite expensive, and when I read the article, I just thought — how can we make this happen? It’s his dream to meet a hometown hero of ours.”
She reached out to local couple Greg and Betty Bond, who are flight enthusiasts and longtime Foundation supporters. They were happy to cover the cost for Ethan, mom Lisa, and stepdad Matt to attend the gala, where Hadfield is keynote speaker.
Bond went a step further and arranged for Ethan to take a flight with his brother Bruce Bond this spring — aboard his 1941 open cockpit Stearman biplane.
“It’s just all these little things coming together, and it’s just so wonderful,” said Alexander. Ethan and his family will be seated at the Foundation table, and are also invited to the VIP reception with Hadfield.
“They’re kind of going to be our special guests for the night.”
The May 19 event, held at the Badger Hangar behind Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport, also features emcee Emm Gryner — who collaborated with Hadfield on a 2013 the cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which helped make him world-famous.
Hadfield, who first headlined the hospital’s gala event nine years ago, was booked again back in 2020, but the event was postponed by COVID-19.
“He really is a remarkable speaker,” said Alexander, noting his positive messaging through the pandemic, especially to health care workers.
“He’s been so wonderful… sending messages of hope and optimism, not only to Bluewater Health staff through videos and messaging, but through his social media as well.”
Proceeds from this year’s gala will support a $2.5-million redevelopment of the hospital lab, which was installed more than a decade ago.
The aging equipment increasingly needs repairs, slowing down the delivery of test results used for patient treatment plans, the hospital said.
As for Nauta, he’s working toward his recreational and private licences, while coming up with questions to ask his favourite pilot.
“I don’t know exactly what I’ll say but I did generate a couple of questions for him,” he said.
“It’s just really, really cool to be able to experience all this stuff. All of this has been super inspiring.”