Danny Collins has had an unconventional career journey. It was actually a no later followed by a yes thanks to the support of a few select people during his senior year at Davidson High School that set him on his current trajectory.
A 2012 graduate of Hilliard City Schools, seniors at the time had the opportunity to complete a senior project. These projects were designed to help students further explore their future career aspirations. Collins’ proposal? Travel to Orlando, Florida, and receive professional-level coaching in wakeboarding. After all, he had traveled around the world competing in the sport and wanted to find out if he could make a go of it at the next level.
His idea was shot down with a resounding no. Until a few days later. He was sitting in art class when then-assistant principal Nathan Bobek popped his head in the door and asked to speak with him. Collins said he’d had limited interactions with Mr. Bobek, so was a bit nervous when he stepped into the hallway.
“He asked me if my idea for my senior project was the real thing and why I structured it the way I did. He was a water skier, so I think he understood my dream of becoming a pro wakeboarder better than most,” he said.
The next thing Collins knew, the no he received turned into a yes, and he was off to Florida. He learned while there that becoming a professional wakeboarder was in fact not what he wanted to do with his life, but the purpose of the senior project was achieved nonetheless. Collins met two French pilots at the camp who were assigned routes that took them from Paris to the Bahamas, New York, and more. They boasted about being able to ski the Alps, scuba dive in the Bahamas, and grab a pizza in New York. A lightbulb went off – a career as a pilot would allow him to travel the world and give him enough financial security to take advantage of the adventure that awaits him at each stop.
He returned and enrolled in the Aviation program at The Ohio State University. In addition to wakeboarding, he competed in and also had a passion for snowboarding before hurting his knee in high school. That didn’t stop him from serving as president of the Ski and Snowboard Club during his time at OSU, however. The club had between 1,200 and 1,500 members each year and they took an annual keynote trip to Colorado or somewhere similar. He said it was the best of all worlds.
“They would fly me out each summer to tour resorts. There was mountain biking and white water rafting. It was unreal,” he said.
Today, he is a commercial pilot for American Airlines, and is doing exactly what he intended after meeting those French pilots so many years ago: exploring the world. Phoenix, Arizona, is home base, where he is a wakeboarding coach for the Arizona State University Wake Devils, which just won their third consecutive national championship. He also coaches through Wake Coaches and is a flight instructor for OSU. And he’s on a plane five days out of the week traveling to places like Key West, Florida, Augusta, Georgia, Monterrey, Mexico, and Jamaica.
If it weren’t for teachers like Mr. Aumiller, who sponsored his senior project and helped him develop a love for, and capture his experience through the arts; Mr. Clark, an English teacher who helped Collins apply lessons to real life; and of course, Mr. Bobek, who took a chance on a kid with a dream, he just may not be where he is today.
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