Midlander battling cancer fulfills his dream of riding a hot air balloon

On a hot, foggy Saturday morning, Tamala Marks waited patiently at Chippewassee Park, ready to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing hot air balloons soar through the sky.

Little did she know that a few hours later she would have her own hot air balloon adventure.

“It’s more than just crossing something off your to-do list,” Marks said, near tears. “It’s something that if God says, ‘It’s time to go,’ I’m ready.”

Marks was diagnosed with uterine cancer in September 2021 and has just completed four months of chemotherapy treatment.

“I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” she said.

On Saturday, she was at the park at 5 a.m. to make sure she didn’t miss the unrolled and inflated balloons as part of the annual River Days festival in downtown Midland.

Then, pilot Scott Strouse announced that the foggy weather would prevent pilots from taking to the skies and competing in their target competition.

“I tried so hard to be strong, and the tears just rolled out of my eyes,” she said. “I was trying so hard not to cry.”

But after hearing about his battle with cancer and more than 10 heart surgeries, the pilots knew they couldn’t give up flying that morning.

The next thing Marks knew was that she was surrounded by pilots who told her they would take her in a balloon, safely strapped to the ground.

“We can go out and do something as simple as inflate six balloons for her, and she’ll remember it forever,” said Dennis Hall, the pilot who accompanied Marks on his journey through the skies.

They got about 10 feet off the ground in Hall’s red, white and blue “REMAX” balloon, and five other pilots also decided to hover their balloons for Marks.

“I don’t even know the word in English, it was beyond magic,” Marks said. “I can’t imagine a better feeling in the world. I was so humbled that these people let me do this.

Another inflated balloon for Marks was the “Cynthia Seal”, named after Cindy Rolfe, the wife of pilot Pat Rolfe. Cindy died of cancer in 2015.

Several experienced pilots said they had never seen a balloon fly in fog before, and directors said the unexpected flight was “better than any competition flight” they could have done.

“To be able to do that for someone, and really change and give someone that kind of positive, I just couldn’t be more proud of this family of balls that we have,” Strouse said.

Marks said it was typical of the “beautiful community” of Midland to go out of their way to achieve their dream.

“If there’s one place anyone can heal, it’s here in Midland,” she said. “I really feel in my heart that I’m going to beat him, but it’s a win-win situation: either we win by beating him or we win by learning from him.”

Marks said she was grateful to share a moment in the sky with the pilots. She said she hopes everyone can have the opportunity to experience a hot air balloon adventure.

Next year, his goal is to see the ball shine.

“God willing, I’m going to go there every fucking year,” she said.