March 27, 2015

P1420820Yesterday I made good on a promise made to myself almost 20 years ago: to fly helicopters again. I first earned my Pilots License during a very busy time in life, when I was juggling motherhood, work, and a marriage, and I stopped when I moved away from a house in rural Connecticut which had convenient access to a helicopter and interesting places to go in it. Now I have returned to it during another busy time. But it’s no coincidence. Performing in the CrossFit Open has been more mentally stressful than it has been physical: the competition has been all-absorbing for the last five weeks. I believe that the best way to recharge my mental batteries is to engage in an activity that demands full attention. So I fly.

The urge to fly runs in my family. My dad was a bush pilot in Alaska, my brother was an aerobatic pilot who performed in weekend air shows, I was married to a man who was and still is a passionate recreational pilot, and we have a son who flies both fixed and rotor wing aircraft. I like helicopters more than airplanes because the places you can go in them are much more fun.*


Gia and Models in the California Desert. Chris von Wangenheim, 1979.

I fly the tiniest non-experimental helicopter there is, a Robinson R22, and I do not aspire to fly anything else, except the equally basic R44, which has four seats. Robinsons have very few moving parts, appealing to someone like me who is not a motor head but who is a gadget freak. If you open the cowl doors, as every pilot does in pre-flight inspection, you can easily see every connection and how it works and test its integrity with your own two hands before take-off. Once in the cockpit, the pilot is directly connected to this remarkable little machine with the cyclic, collective, and two foot pedals. I love this feeling, which is, to me, a sensation similar to rock climbing, without the physical exertion. Climbing air: a perfect activity for a rest day.

Yesterday, I spent an hour of flight time reacquainting myself with the aircraft. I did fine flying straight and level as we surveyed the snowy mountain peaks of the San Bernardino range. Next week, I will learn to hover again. I am betting that it will take me at least five hours to relearn this critical skill, which took me ten hours to master in 1995. It will probably take about 30 hours to be fully proficient to fly solo again, so long as I minimize time between lessons.

The range of the Robinson is about 250 miles and it travels at 110 MPH. This means that hiking trails of Big Sur, the ski slopes of Mammoth Mountain, climbing rocks in Joshua Tree, and the surf beaches of San Diego will be within my reach. This is my incentive. I will be logging my adventures here, so please stay tuned.


Meanwhile, 15.5 was announced last night, and it consists of only two moves: rowing and thrusters. I am fairly proficient at both, and I actually enjoy rowing, but the kicker is that they will be judged for time. My plan is to approach it like I have done before: in today’s go I will get the feel of it. Monday will be for real. The Open final scores will comprise the first score in the Master’s Qualifier (which is a semi-final step to qualify for the CrossFit Games, my goal). I am currently ranked in 3rd place Worldwide in the Women’s 60+ Division. So on Monday I will leave it all on the floor (now that I have learned the value in doing so), and post my results here.


Stephanie Seymour. Photographer Herb Ritts


*Essentially most state laws allow helicopter pilots to land anywhere it doesn’t say you can’t. Safe and courteous pilots always obtain permission to land at their destination before takeoff.



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  • Reply Jeff March 29, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Good luck tomorrow!

    • Reply Sandy Hill March 29, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      Thanks, Jeff. I will give it 100%. Your encouragement helps.

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