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A soaring dream

Jan. 1, 2011
Nothing in my life has ever come easy for me. It seems like I have always had to work harder for the things I want than the people around me.

Washington hygienist learns to fly to escape from daily tension

by Tricia Fitzjarrald, RDH

Nothing in my life has ever come easy for me. It seems like I have always had to work harder for the things I want than the people around me. This was especially the case when I was not only accepted into hygiene school, but graduated from hygiene school. My theory is the harder someone has to work for something, the more they appreciate it. This is why goal setting has always been an essential part of my life.

Tricia Fitzjarrald, RDH, plans a cross country trip.

Five years ago my mom was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Coping with the pain of a terminally sick mother is what inspired me to start flying. I needed an escape from the day-to-day sadness of seeing her deteriorate. She was also a pilot and a dental hygienist. I grew up watching my mother succeed in everything she did. She was even featured in the July/August 1982 issue of RDH magazine as one of a handful of independent hygienists who had branched off into private practice.

My first flying lesson was Oct. 26, 2006. I knew immediately it was true love. I was forced to focus on the task of flying. When I was in an airplane, nothing else existed. All the worries of life were put to bed for the time being. I truly believe flying helped me stay sane. Also, it was a way of connecting to my mom and sharing the joy we both loved. I would call her after every flight lesson and share my triumphs and frustrations, much like I did in hygiene school.

In March of 2007 my mom passed away. I was hit hard by her death, but I kept flying. I wasn't so concerned with getting my license as much as just appreciating the flight. I knew I would eventually take all my exams, but it was not my priority at the time. On top of everything else, during the four years and over 100 hours of flying, I fell in love with my flight instructor. We moved to Puyallup, where I started working at Willamette Dental. We still flew together, but the dream of actually getting my license was getting further and further away. The cost of flying was becoming prohibitive because Greg, my flight instructor, was laid off from his new job as a commercial pilot, the result of a flailing economy.

Even though we still flew once in a while for fun, it was not enough time to be proficient for an exam, and this was really starting to eat me up inside. Greg and I talked about how much we both wanted me to finish, but didn't do anything about it. This is where April Scrattish came in. She gave us a goal setting exercise at our monthly meeting in July. She asked us to write down three goals, give them a time line, and measure the importance to our happiness. Of course, my pilot's license was the first thing that popped into my mind. The significant part was that I wrote it was essential to my happiness, and I gave myself a deadline of October 2010.

I went home that night and told Greg about my revelation. We agreed I had to finish. When you come to the realization that you have a goal and you need to fulfill it or you won't be completely happy, it adds urgency to the mix. We went into action. We found a plane in Yakima that only cost $55 an hour, and the flight school allowed Greg to complete my training. That sealed the deal. We spent every other weekend driving to Yakima and training like crazy.

I took my written exam on Sept. 7, 2010, and my oral exam and flying portion on Sept. 27. The Sunday before the big exam, I decided to have my mom's airplane tail number polished on my left toenails, and my airplane tail number polished on my right toenails. My mom was with me for the big day. Sitting across the table from an FAA examiner was a very humbling experience. There was two full hours of answering questions. When he said, "Let's go flying," I knew I had passed the oral exam because if you don't pass the oral you don't get to fly.

We walked out to the airplane and he watched me do the preflight. After I checked the weather, we buckled ourselves in and were off. All of the take-offs, landings, and maneuvers I had been practicing all this time were finally being tested. When we taxied back to the tie-down area and turned off the engine, he put his hand out and said, "Congratulations, you are now a private pilot!" I can't put into words how I felt at that moment. I think I freaked him out a little because I kissed his hand out of pure joy.

I tell this story not because of my achievement, but because I feel it's so important to recognize what goal setting can do – anything! If I can become a dental hygienist and private pilot, anyone can achieve their dreams. All we need to do is realize what those dreams are and never, ever give up!

Tricia Fitzjarrald, RDH, spent her childhood in the South Pacific on a very small island called Pohnpei, Micronesia. She graduated from high school in Wenatchee, Wash., and later obtained her dental hygiene degree from Dixie State College in 2002. She currently works in Puyallup, Wash., for Willamette Dental. In her spare time, Greg, her flight instructor, and their three dogs fly to different airports, exploring the Northwest states. Her next goal for flying is to obtain a float plane rating by summer 2011.

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