by Jill Meyers
This is the last post in my Helping Dreams Soar blog series, as this week marked the end of the Dreams Soar Global Flight for STEM. Shaesta Waiz returned to Daytona Beach International Airport on October 4th, flying the Beechcraft Bonanza A36 back to its starting point, greeted by the Dreams Soar team, friends, and a handful of media. What was originally going to be a 90-day journey turned into a 145-day journey, common amongst almost every “earthrounder”. As I told many people along the way, we don’t control the weather and we can’t predict aircraft maintenance issues. But how long it took Shaesta Waiz to fly around the world solo is not important at all. What is important are the incredible accomplishments of this mission, never done before in the history of the world.
Shaesta flew almost 25,000 nautical miles across five continents and landed the Bonanza in 20 different countries. She crossed three oceans - the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific - and quite a few seas including the Mediterranean and the Arabian. In addition, she flew via commercial carrier to two countries, England and Afghanistan, to hold Outreach events in places she couldn’t fly to in the Bonanza. We held a total of 32 incredibly successful Outreach events in 17 different locations, inspiring and reaching over 3,000 young girls and boys in person. Many people have flown around the world alone, including nine women, but none of them had the primary goal of inspiring and empowering young girls to reach for the stars and follow their dreams! None of them faced the challenges we did in having to work across every time zone on the planet to reschedule events, often multiple times, due to weather or aircraft delays. It is one thing to reschedule an arrival at international airports when schedules change, which is complex enough, but to be rescheduling visits to schools, gatherings of hundreds of kids at an airport or other venue, and moving media interviews around was not easy!
The pressure on Shaesta and our team was significant due to the calendar of flights and events. A great deal of the burden was on me, as I was handling Outreach planning and ground logistics, and supporting flight planning. But we took each day one at a time, and just played the cards we were dealt. I told Shaesta many times along the way to not worry about the schedule, since that was my job, and I encouraged her to focus on flying safely and keeping the aircraft moving eastward, which she did! In addition to flying and taking care of the Bonanza, Shaesta had to focus on other priorities like staying healthy and getting enough rest, so that when she wasn’t piloting or dealing with the aircraft, she had the necessary energy to tell her passionate story to a group of kids, and then go off and be interviewed by global media like CNN World News or The Independent. All very taxing and exhausting week after week.
We both, along with everyone on the Dreams Soar team, feel incredibly proud of the success of this mission. And as Shaesta always says, “success is never achieved alone”. The entire Dreams Soar team, led during these five months by the amazing Lyndse Costabile, came through every time with whatever help was needed. The reason this is miraculous is that all of us are volunteers, and with the exception of me and Lyndse, they all have day jobs. Busy day jobs. But they have strong passion and found the time to help this mission move forward. And we had the support of so many organizations, many of which I’ve talked about in earlier posts. And of course, our donors, who provided much needed financial or “in-kind” support during these five months. Shaesta would not have completed this flight without everyone’s help. This was the epitome of a team effort!
Matia Karrell, creator and director of FlyGirls and the person who asked me to write this blog, often asks me to be “more personal” in my writing. So here goes. I am very sad to have this journey end and have cried a bit these past few weeks. Being Shaesta’s primary support person, talking and texting with Lyndse many times a day and well into the night, and working with amazing people all over the globe to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams, has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I have made friends all over the world in these past months, and although we say we will meet again, no one knows for sure if that’s true. And although I plan to support Dreams Soar for as long as it exists, I don’t know how often I’ll see the wonderful members of this organization – the Dream Team, the Board members and the Advisory Council members, some of whom I still have not met.
And then there is Shaesta. It is mind blowing that we did not meet until the day before her launch in May. You would never know that seeing us now. But being her “lifeline”, as the Dreams Soar Board called me, and being her “virtual co-pilot”, as Shaesta herself called me, allowed us to build a very special bond between us that will never be broken. We went through a lot together, navigating the many different waters of this global flight. I helped Shaesta get around the world and through some challenges along the way, and we also celebrated the success of each and every Outreach event together. I was very lucky to experience the events in Dubai and Washington DC with Shaesta, and the rest I had to experience vicariously through talking with Shaesta and looking at photos. In turn, Shaesta trusted me to make plans and decisions on her behalf and got to know me well enough by mid-summer to give me a good bit of worldly advice about my own life! I believe Shaesta is what we often call “an old soul”, insightful beyond her years, and with an incredibly altruistic view of the world. I learned a lot from her and will continue to, and I tell her all the time how she has changed my life forever. So, I thank you, Shaesta Waiz, here in this public forum, for having and executing your vision of making the world a better place, and for asking me to be part of that journey.
Dreams Soar’s mission, with Shaesta leading the way, will continue on after this flight, with plans to expand and keep inspiring the next generation of STEM and aviation professionals around the globe, especially young girls who don’t have the means to get a good education without outside help. I look forward to continuing my support to Shaesta and Dreams Soar, whatever that might look like as I transition into a paying “day job”. This has been the time of my life and Shaesta’s landing in Daytona Beach was in fact bittersweet. But I’ll do what I’ve been doing since May, taking life just one day at a time, and hoping that the best is yet to come.
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