By Carol Brown - North Georgia Chapter
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN PILOTS / 99 NEWS MAGAZINE
LIKE MANY WOMEN WHO ARE PILOTS, Carol Hickey projects a positive, can-do attitude. She is confident, knows herself and where she is going. She seems ready to take on any challenges that life brings her way.
Learning to fly has not been Carol's only achievement. And leaving her native Ireland for a new life in the United States was not her longest journey.
At 16, she was an athletic teenager who enjoyed field hockey, basketball and cycling. Those activities came to a halt when she was struck by a truck while riding her bicycle. The accident broke her spine and left her paralyzed from the waist down. She spent the next four years in Dublin, at Ireland's National Rehabilitation Center, adjusting to life in a wheelchair and assessing her options.
"I knew I would have to adapt to life in a wheelchair ... but I didn't want the wheelchair to prevent me from doing the things I wanted to do," she said.
Carol resumed the athletic activities she loved. She became a member of the Irish National Wheelchair Basketball Team and took up wheelchair racing.
There was another goal too. "From a very early age I had been fascinated by flight and what it was like for birds to fly free. I wondered if I would feel free ... when I was up there."
Looming even larger than parental disapproval over Carol's ambition was Ireland's policy of prohibiting the disabled from learning to fly or obtaining a license. Not one to be put off, Carol saw an article about an organization in the United States called Freedom's Wings which taught the disabled how to fly a glider. She applied and was accepted to the school in Pennsylvania and after a series of instructional flights, she soloed.
Her instructors were surprised. Even though the course taught disabled persons to fly, no disabled woman student had ever gone solo. As it turned out, in 1990 Carol had become the first disabled woman in history to solo in a sailplane. Her instructors called her an "extraordinary student, highly motivated," and a natural because of her athletic ability and coordination.
Carol had tasted freedom, not just the freedom of flight, but the more supportive, wheelchair-accessible environment in the United States. When she returned to Ireland, the contrast and limited opportunities became apparent.
She applied for a flying scholarship offered by King Hussein of Jordan, also a pilot, and returned to the States to obtain her private license. Epps Aviation at Peachtree Dekalb airport in Atlanta offers a training program for people with disabilities using a modified Piper Warrior. They have trained over 50 students. Carol received her license there in 1993.
Enthusiastic about the opportunities in this wheelchair-friendly town, Carol decided to make Atlanta her home. She is currently employed by the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games. As the youth and community program manager for Paralympics Day in the schools, Carol likes to preach her upbeat philosophy of independence, healthy self esteem and achieving goals.
Carol is also active in Winners on Wheels, an organization for disabled young people that offers an experience similar to Scouting. Perhaps closest to her heart is the annual weekend event at PDK which gives people with disabilities the opportunity to experience aviation.
Learning to fly gave freedom and mobility to Carol's life. "In the sky, we can do anything that others can do. Up there, I'm happy. I can look down on the world and see it all. There are no curbs to get over in the sky."