On September 17, 1911, Cal Rodgers climbed into the bucket seat of his 35-horsepower, cloth-covered biplane named Vin Fiz and took off from a horse track in Brooklyn. His goal was to fly across the United States in thirty days, following the rail road tracks. He had arranged to have a three-car train follow him across the country with a Pullman car for sleeping, a dining and lounge car, and a special shop car. The people who had gathered to see him off did not have much faith in him. Most said he wouldn't make it past the Hudson River. But despite everything, Rodgers kept pressing on. There were no airports in those days, so he would land in farmers' fields at night. On his second morning he caught a tree on take off, causing him to crash into a chicken coop, sheering off a wing and lacerating his skull. While flying over Ohio the wind blew him off course and he ended up in a cow pasture where he spent the night fending off cows who wanted to lick the glue off of his plane's fabric. It took him fourteen days and twenty-three landings to get across the state of Texas. In Arizona, Rodgers crashed and broke a leg. Flying over the California desert, the Vin Fiz exploded a cylinder, sending hot shrapnel into his arm and boiling oil into his face. Despite everything, Rodgers kept pressing on. On November 5, 1911, forty-nine days after he left Brooklyn, Cal Rodgers landed the Vin Fiz on a racetrack in Pasadena, California, to the cheering of twenty-thousand people.
Even though Cal Rodgers did not make it in the thirty days he aimed to, he still became the first person to fly across the United States. It would have been so easy for him to give up. He crashed so many times that the only original parts left on his airplane by the time he landed were the vertical rudder, the oil drip pan, and one wing strut. He had broken nearly every bone in his body. Yet Cal Rodgers pressed on. As I took the picture above a couple of weeks ago in the Air and Space Museum, I couldn't help but ask myself how this plane even made it across the country. Yet it did! In the message to the church of Smyrna, God says, "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). This crown is the one that the winners in the Olympic Games would receive as they culminated years of training and depravation with the best run or jump or throw of their lives. God did not promise that everything would be easy for us. We will have difficulties in life. But if we keep pressing on as Cal Rodgers did, we will receive a crown of life and be welcomed into the city to the cheering of countless millions of beings. Won't you keep pressing on so you can be there that day?