At the end of a seven-year struggle, I was on the final stretch to becoming a commercial pilot. Preparing to move to a new city and full of confidence and excitement for what lay ahead, I splurged and took an aerobatic flight lesson. It was a digression from my usual training, but I was on a high from the powers of aircraft.
Then a routine eye exam turned into the beginning of a nightmare. The doctor was concerned with something in the exam and advised me to make an appointment with a retinal specialist. I found out that I had tears and holes in both of my retinas and a detachment in my left eye, which gave me a small blind spot. Upon hearing of my professional aspirations, the doctor asked if I had a career "backup." The news tore through me and I felt like the floor beneath my feet had suddenly disappeared. My dreams started crumbling and I was convinced that I would have to quit something that I loved against my will. The uncertainty lasted for weeks, during which time I realized just how important aviation was to me. I also realized that my specific role did not matter, as long as my work related to flying. I did not give up and after several laser treatments, I visited an aviation medical examiner and successfully passed the exam required for commercial pilots.
Following my move to a new city, state and airport community, I discovered a movement called Women of Aviation Week. Rooted in the fact that only six percent of pilots are women, Women of Aviation Week aims to introduce girls and women to aviation and encourage them to enter aeronautic vocations. Inspired, I decided to host an event entitled "Women Fly it Forward." I gathered sponsors, volunteer pilots and ground workers, static displays and special guests for an inspirational day at the airport. The inaugural year, I earned the airport the world record for the number of girls and women introduced to aviation. To date, my efforts have helped more than 750 girls and women experience their first flights in a small aircraft- all at no charge.
I'm now a commercial pilot. Although I don't have thousands of hours flying various types of aircraft, I have inspired countless others. Through my 'Women Fly it Forward' events, I learned that I can make an important difference regardless of my piloting title. I have adjusted my focus to igniting within others the same fire that aviation lights within me.
Every time I push in the throttle and the aircraft comes to life, I anticipate the moment when the wheels prepare to depart Earth. In that moment, I remember that I was once given a choice: to give up or to persevere. I chose to fly.