"I have went from literally not being able to order food in a restaurant and now, a lot of people say it was a blessing I stuttered, because I never shut up," he laughed.
McComas learned how to control his breath at HCRI. "Before you begin speaking, you have to speak at the top of a full breath," he said. "The technique is amazing."
McComas, who said it took a few years to master his speech after HCRI, has actually given up a little bit of his training.
"Because I like to talk so much and so fast, I have sort of given up a bit of my disfluency so I can talk faster."
McComas, like most people who stutter, will stammer more if he is very tired, upset or angry. "It's all based on stress." After years of practice though, he has learned how to recognize his trigger points, and when he does, he turns his speaking technique up and he slows down.
After his training at HCRI, McComas found confidence in himself. "I'd stand up in front of 50,000 people and give a speech," he said. "There are some times I am going to stutter a bit. I am going to get tangled up in my words and I'll have a little disfluency, but you know what? I don't care."
When McComas was a little boy, he was obsessed with airplanes and always dreamed of flying. "But I was always like 'I can't fly. I'm poor. I stutter. All of these things seem so out of reach.'"
As he got older, McComas learned not to fear his stuttering or be ashamed of it.
"I learned to detach who I am from my stuttering," he said. That realization helped him on his flight path.
The company where he works (and helped found) -- Greenbrier Technical Services, Inc. in Lewisburg -- had a company plane, and some of his colleagues encouraged him to get a pilot's license so he could co-pilot on company trips.
The hardest thing wasn't learning how to get the plane off the ground, but how to talk on the radio. "In the aviation world, there are specific things you have to say. And one of the favorite techniques of people who stutter is they word substitute," he said. "You become a walking dictionary."
Unfortunately, that luxury is not available to McComas when he is in the air. He recalls one time -- while training with a flight instructor -- that he couldn't get a specific word out. "I determined that would never happen again."
And it hasn't. McComas started flying in 2004 and got his license in 2007. Since then, he has also earned his multi-engine rating, seaplane rating, his tail-wheel endorsement and is working on his glider and instrument ratings.
He even traveled to Alaska last summer and took a bush pilot training course where he learned how to land on glaciers.
McComas has about 250 hours of flight time, with more than 700 landings, usually out of the Greenbrier Valley Airport in his friend's two-seater Cessna 152.
McComas doesn't have a plane of his own, but instead flies a Tennessee friend's plane to keep it in good condition. He and another man keep up with the maintenance and buy fuel for the small plane.
Steering an airplane is like balancing a broom on your hand. Speaking when you stutter is sort of the same thing, McComas said.
"It takes a careful balance of the speech techniques I learned and breathing to speak normally."
Overcoming his stutter and being a successful pilot was a result of learning a new skill set and learning to think differently to the point that it became second nature.
For now, McComas is happy working in Lewisburg and flying the small two-seater plane. One day, he hopes to head back to school to get a doctorate and teach someplace.
"If I, a poor Appalachian American boy from Lincoln County, West Virginia, can do all that I have done, can fly an airplane in and out of controlled airspace and travel the world -- if I can accomplish all that I have ... anybody can do it."
Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathr...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.