Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Wingwalker

After attending the Watsonville Fly-in, "Salute to Our Heroes," during Memorial Day Weekend, my father's love of airplanes and stunt piloting was rekindled in me. I couldn't get enough. The best part is that air shows are generally run by nonprofit organizations and they allow local charities to run concession/drink stands to earn bundles of needed cash for programs beneficial to
the community. The Watsonville event felt like a cozy hometown get-together, though ten times larger than the last time I attended as a little girl while Dad was still alive. We would hang out behind the ropes with his friends who had flown small planes from the Bay Area to show their restoral work. Since those early days, the Fly-in and now the California International Air Show have become major summertime events, drawing crowds from every corner of the state and beyond. Both are volunteer-run, so anyone with an interest in airplanes and flying can rub shoulders with pilots young and old, civilian and military.

Our family favorite this time in Salinas was the "flying lady" wingwalker stunt team, with Gene Soucy and Teresa Stokes. I had seen this type of show with Dad back in the early days, so this brought back a flood of memories. Daddy and his friends used to scare me and my brother with their loops and barrel rolls. Imagine going for a roller coaster ride with no apparatus, just air! Teresa literally walks and balances all over the plane, sometimes with no tether. My girls and I affirmed "Girl Power" to each other while watching these amazing feats of courage and strength on the Showcat. The announcer lauded Teresa's career as a stunt pilot herself, as well as a celebrated aircraft artist who had designed the graphics for the very wings she was walking with her boyfriend Gene at the controls. As Teresa proceeded to scale the upside-down plane, the announcer went on in his stating-facts voice that among her many talents and feats,Teresa had also recently donated a kidney to said boyfriend. The girls and I now watched this duo with awe and inspiration.

As the "flying lady" stunt show came in for a landing, the grandstand audience squinted to discover that Teresa was this petite, beautiful, blonde bombshell; far from her twenties but no worse for the wear. "That's the lady who was standing on her head up there in the sky? Cool!" Not only is Teresa gorgeous, but she does not come close to showing her age. You can check out her webpage at www.genesoucy.com to do the calculations. As for my family, we hope she flies forever, even if she and Gene do have to share a kidney to keep up their act. They have incorporated organ donation awareness as a part of their message. Being a registered donor myself, I'm happy to share an excerpt from their story:

"With both operations a success, Gene reports feeling the best he ever has in his life and Teresa is as great as she was before the procedure. It is as if there was never anything wrong to begin with. Now that the threat of losing his life to kidney disease is behind him, Gene and Teresa have returned to airshows and thrilling audiences all over the country. In addition to their incredible act, they strive to promote their success with kidney transplantation and increase awareness of organ donation. They want everyone to know and understand that there are thousands of people waiting for organ donations to save their lives, yet these people are dying because healthy organs are being buried and not put to use. People are dying merely from a lack of awareness. Just by letting your family know of your after-death wishes to donate your organs and by signing the back of your drivers license or by carrying an organ donor’s card, you can help or save the lives of 69 people! You can even make a living donation of a kidney, partial liver, bone marrow, or other organs. All procedures have been made so much easier by modern methods practiced in places all across the country, such as the University of Maryland Medical Systems.

"Who knows? Someday you or someone you love might need an organ transplant just like Gene Soucy. There is no greater gift than the gift of life. Help give it to as many people as you possibly can." (http://www.genesoucy.com/kidney_transplant.htm)

3 Ways to Make a Difference

  • Organ and tissue donation is a very personal matter. Find out how you can make a powerful difference to save lives at: http://www.organdonor.gov/
  • Cool Memorial Day Weekend Volunteering at the Fly-in: http://www.watsonvilleflyin.org/volunteers.html
  • Cool August Volunteer Opportunity in Salinas (18 & Up) http://www.salinasairshow.com/volunteer.htm

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