It’s always hard when you return from an extended trip to explain to people the breadth of experiences you have had, the sights and smells, the people you met, the impact they had, and how you have grown as an individual. Although family and friends are interested, they often ask questions which precipitate one-word answers such as: “How was your trip?”, “Did you have fun?”, or “Do you want to go back?” (The obvious answers of course being “Good.” “Yes.” and “Yes!”) Even creative answers yield little more than “Fantastic!” Although I could easily delve into the myriad of flights I had in Australia, the incredibly cool people I met, the beautiful scenery which abounds, or the time I almost ran over a koala, I am going to try in this text to articulate some things which I learned while abroad last winter and some of the people who taught them to me.
When I first tangibly made it a goal of mine to represent Canada at the 2011 World Junior Soaring Competition, the first thing I realised is that I had very little airtime compared to many others who would be at this competition. In order to gain this experience I would likely need to do what Chris Gough did the previous year and travel south to fly as much as possible. After making the decision to take some time off from my undergraduate degree, I realised the next obstacle would be having enough fiscal freedom to accomplish this goal. With a summer’s wages under my belt I turned to working in the fall before my trip’s departure at the end of November. I was lucky to find two jobs in addition to the work I already did through the Air Cadet Program. I soon found myself working 65-80/week which was awesome for my bank account but dreadful for my sleep levels. Through this I really learned what it meant to work hard to achieve my goal. Money doesn’t come easily, but the pride I felt in actually saving my target goal was huge.
One of the first people to mentor me in Australia was a man named Paul Mander. Paul is one of Australia’s finest pilots as demonstrated through his numerous wins of the Club Class Nationals and appearances at World contests. However these accolades aren’t Paul’s greatest flying achievement. Paul strongly supports the youth flying movement in Australia, and I had the incredible opportunity to have three flights with him during last year’s JoeyGlide Coaching Clinic. JoeyGlide is Australia’s National Junior Soaring Competition. On the ground Paul equipped us with the knowledge we needed to succeed in the air. On my first day of flying with him he discussed aspects of cross-country flying with me, teaching me how to effectively center thermals and some aspects of reading the sky while also physically demonstrating some flying techniques. I quickly learned how to properly “chuck a turn!” That day he skillfully equipped my tool belt with the necessary basics. The second opportunity I had to fly with Paul, he was already forcing me to make decisions and practise the skills he had taught me. Although he answered questions we had not already addressed, he forced me to begin to think for myself and to put into action what I had learned. Our third flight Paul came along for the ride and told me soon after take-off that he was planning to have a nap. When I asked him for advice on matters I should know he stayed silent, telling me one time that I ought to be able to make such a choice by myself. Paul did not allow me to exhibit typical “girl” flying characteristics. In three short flights I went from a pilot who had little concept of cross-country flying to one who felt confident in the decisions she was making in the air. Although it would have been much easier for Paul to make decisions and take control of our flights, he instead infused me with his knowledge then empowered me to make strong decisions. When I think back on how he guided and mentored me I am still in awe.
Chris Gough is the man who inspires my current dream to go to the World Juniors. When he came back from Worlds in 2009 with his stories of the contest, I was filled with the desire to follow a similar path. Without Chris I would never be taking my current steps towards next summer’s contest. Chris has been the most patient mentor and guide I could ask for. He has sat with me for hours, tirelessly explaining the intricacies of contest flying from information about various types of gliders to classes to every random question imagineable. Chris always makes himself available to help me out, although I did push the limit one morning trying to learn how to properly fill a water ballast on a day he was trying for 750km (sorry Chris!). He patiently puts up with my endless technical difficulties, understanding that computers and I will never get along. In the air Chris helped me fly my furthest distance and one of my funnest flights thus far with some amiable competition. Chris is there to push me further in flying than I knew possible, insisting that I will fly 500 km, and soon. And he was there with his muscles on hand the day I declared the day would end in 500 or a field (I was in the field). He has also become one of my closest friends.
My tale about Australia would be lacking if I neglected to tell you about Angela Comer, my best friend that I convinced to join me on my Aussie adventure. She soon became just as excited as I was to embark on a winter of gliding. Angela helped me learn a lot of personal things. She taught me what it is like to live in close proximity with someone else. We planned groceries and adventures across the countryside. She reminds me not to be too serious and remember to enjoy myself (in the air and on the ground!). She taught me that it’s much more pleasant to be with someone who isn’t so grumpy in the morning. Because of Angela I learned better how to compromise. She helped me learn how to pursue my dreams without being selfish along the way. And Angela is always there to give me some tough love when I am facing insecurities about gliding. I have grown up a lot in the past year, in large part due to my incredible friendship with Angie!
I must also mention all of the incredible people I met from Australia and around the world who took the time to talk with me about flying last year. Nathan, Andrew, John, Lars, Brendan, Graham, and so many others. Each of these people answered my questions, looked over flights with me, and taught me a myriad of things about flying. Thank you!
I have learned a lot of things from other people, but my own personal flying and preparation has been teaching me heaps as well. On the ground I have been learning self-discipline before flights, ensuring I get proper sleep, hydration, and diet. In the air staying completely focused on the flight teaches me self-discipline of the mind. When I get low during a flight I learn about the qualities of perseverance and tenacity. The endless decisions that must be made in the air teach me to be decisive, as well encourage clear and logical thinking. My dream of flying at the Junior Worlds has taught me that it is possible to have lofty dreams, and that through hard work and dedication I can succeed at what I set my heart on. It is hard to articulate how these qualities have grown in myself, but hopefully this can be seen when people meet and talk with me. Sometimes I struggle with thinking that flying is a selfish sport, but then I realise that in growing as an individual I will have more to contribute to society and to pass on to others.
If you talk to me for long you will hopefully quickly see that I am absolutely in love with the sky. Addicted even. But I am equally passionate about getting more young people involved in this sport. Why? I dream of seeing other young people grow and learn positive personal attributes the way I hope I am through the sport of gliding which will carry with them for the rest of their life. Is there a young keen pilot at your club? If so, take the time to invest in them. Enjoy the process of watching them learn and blossom.