Every year, the City of Provo, Utah, hosts a Fourth of July celebration called the Stadium of Fire. It was at this celebration that then-16-year-old Rob Shallenberger had a powerful experience that would change the trajectory of his entire life.
A Rumble in His Chest
At 16, Shallenberger had no direction. He was unmotivated and wasn’t even sure if he was going to graduate high school.
“I’m sure my parents were pulling their hair out,” he recalls.
But that summer, in 1992, when he attended the Stadium of Fire celebration with his family, there was a moment that unexpectedly inspired him.
At the opening of the celebration, some F-16 pilots performed a flyby over the stadium.
“The jets flew by, and we felt that rumble in our chest, and something happened. I looked over at my brother, and I said, ‘Someday, we’re going to fly over this stadium.’ I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at that point, but that’s where the seed of my vision was born,” he says. “Something changed inside of me. Here was this kid that had no direction, totally lost, who had a total U-turn. I got laser focused, and I said, ‘Well, what needs to happen to become a fighter pilot?’ Over the next couple of months, my life completely changed. That flyby was the trigger for it.”
“My parents let me get my private pilot’s license at 17. I went through ROTC, graduated high school, and went to college,” says Shallenberger.
After graduating from college, Shallenberger joined the U.S. Air Force and served as an F-16 and T-38 instructor pilot for more than 11 years. He obtained his MBA while he was a pilot and continued his work with the Air Force. In 2010, he was chosen as a representative tasked with handling the movement of Air Force One, which required delicate coordination between local officials, the United States Secret Service, embassies, White House staff, and foreign governments.
A Full-Circle Moment
On July 4, 2007, 15 years after that inspiring experience, Shallenberger and his brother were given the honor of performing the opening flyby for the Stadium of Fire.
“He was flying F-16s out of Hill Air Force Base, and I was flying F-16s out of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona,” he says. “Orrin Hatch did the introduction down in the stadium, and up on the Jumbotron it showed the cameras in the cockpit as we flew over.”
He continues, “After we flew over the stadium, the ground controller came over the radio. He said, ‘Viper One One, nice flyby. Perfect timing. Congratulations, Shallenbergers.’ And I remember getting chills up and down my arms, even a tear in my eye. . . . I knew that my family was down there, all cheering. It was just one of those moments when you know that you’re only going to get one shot.”
After the Air Force
Since stepping away from the Air Force in 2011, Shallenberger has become a popular motivational speaker, sharing valuable lessons and insights with Fortune 500 companies around the world. He is the co-founder and CEO of Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, helping people and organizations improve performance, productivity, and well-being. He is the co-author of the best-sellers Do What Matters Most and Start with the Vision.
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