Todd Mason’s life passions are the result of chance encounters and coincidence coupled with a strong desire to overcome his fears. “When I was young there were two things I was afraid of: flying and water,” he says.
Family trips involving flying terrified him even a month beforehand. During swimming lessons, he clung to the edge of the pool in fear. The lifeguard would step on his fingers to get him out in the water.
Today, however, “those two aspects have become part of my life in ways I thoroughly enjoy,” Todd says. “Maybe it was all about overcoming those fears.”
With a heart for challenge and adventure, this Chehalis native decided to take flying lessons as a young teen. He would return from his lessons so covered in sweat his mother would ask him, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”
His reply was and still is, “I don’t want anything to defeat me.” He earned his commercial pilot’s license and even got into aerobatics. Then Todd moved on to an even bigger challenge.
His love of aircraft led him to an interest in radio-controlled airplanes. When he tried a radio-controlled helicopter at a friend’s house, he quickly discovered and exciting new challenge. He was hooked. He bought his own the next day. On his way home, he stopped at the Olympia Airport for an intro lesson on flying an actual helicopter. He wanted to see if the real deal was as difficult.
That first flight compelled Todd to earn a helicopter pilot’s license. “During my lessons, my instructor told me the hardest part about flying a helicopter is hovering,” Todd says. “He said learning to hover is as hard as learning to ride a unicycle.” The seed was planted for his ultimate challenge.
Five years ago, a friend bought a couple unicycles and Todd decided to try them out. “It was impossible,” he says. “So I had to master it. Let me tell you, learning to hover a helicopter is far easier than learning to ride a unicycle.”
It took him a month of daily practice to go about 100 feet. “It’s like watching an infant learn to walk,” he says. “I had to keep trying.”
After about a year, he felt proficient enough to take his unicycle on the Willapa Hills Trail. With one 36-inch wheel, Todd rides at about 12 miles per hour for 15 to 20 miles. “No matter how good you get at riding a unicycle, you’re still going to look like a dork,” he laughs. “I get smiles and jokes like, ‘Where’s the circus?’”
Although Todd says he was horrible at sports in school, he always enjoyed being active. When he went to the University of Washington, he would go running and row the lakes to get away from the city bustle. He decided that, if he was going to do that, he should learn to swim. He has now been an open water swimmer for the last 30 years, even swimming in bitterly cold 38-degree water with no wet suit.
Eventually, Todd decided to do a triathlon and started a couch to 5K program to train. After completing the triathlon, he progressed to a half Ironman and eventually competed in three full Ironman races. These grueling events include swimming 2.4 miles, then 112 miles on a bike, and a 26.2-mile run. ”It sounded impossible to me at the time but it was another challenge,” he says. “It was my mid-life crisis. I tell people I couldn’t afford a convertible but running shoes are half price. It just shows anyone can do it.”
“For me, life has just always been this series of steps and I don’t know what’s coming next,” says Todd, now owner of Mason Engineering. “I joked for a number of years that I wanted my tombstone to say, ‘He rode all the rides’ because I have had the opportunity to do a lot of stuff. You name it – if there is something to do, I will try it. It’s not necessarily that I want to ride all the rides but I want to take the opportunities in life.”
In addition to seizing opportunities, Todd also emphasizes the importance of relationships. “Where life really exists is in the midway with all the relationships,” he says. “Be involved in the community, look for opportunities to give back.”
Todd cites former W.F. West wrestling coach and teacher, Bill Stephens, as an example. “Wonderful guy and very friendly,” he says. “I would pass him every day in his long white limousine waving, honking, and beaming with a smile.”
Bill’s funeral was standing room only. “This connection he made with me, he made with hundreds of other people in the area,” Todd says. “The most remarkable thing to me was that he traveled around the world climbing just about every mountain. Everybody has a story in life and a lot of times as we wave at each other we don’t always know the stories behind other people … these small towns uniquely offer the ability to hear other people’s stories in life. Take the opportunity.”
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