Meet four local women - four extraordinary women - who have challenged convention and defied traditional expectations by choosing hobbies and pastimes that raise eyebrows. Each was exposed to an activity that ignited a passion in their souls that burns eternal.
Some view them as risk takers, while others idolize their adventuresome spirit and perseverance. These women are torchbearers for a generation, leading the way by showing others that there are simply no barriers in life - that all of us can do anything we want to do. Dream. Act. Break new ground. Triumph!
SHE'S THE CAPTAIN, SO CLIMB ABOARD
The water calls to her. Kathy Burkhart is enamored by rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. So in 2008, after their kids were grown, she and her husband, Doug, bought a 32-foot Marinette Cruiser and fell in love with boating.
"But Doug didn't want to drive all the time," Burkhart says. "So, I learned to drive the Marinette by taking it in and out of Chickamauga Marina." Later that year, Burkhart was climbing aboard the Marinette when the boat jolted and moved suddenly away from the dock.
She fell and shattered her shin. "One doctor said that he didn't think that I would ever walk on my leg again," she says. "But I proved him wrong. In fact, just a week later, I was back on the water driving the boat. Of course, I had to drive from the lower level with my leg elevated."
Today, Burkhart's lower leg is titanium - a material as tough and resilient as she is. "During those months of wheelchairs and boots and pain, we never missed a weekend on the water," she says. "Some of our boating friends even gave me a purple heart pin for being so tough."
In 2010, the couple upgraded to something even bigger - a Harbormaster 400 Coastal, whose overall length is 46 feet. They christened their yacht the Lady Bejeje, named for their three daughters, Beth, Jeana and Jessica.
Then in November of 2012, Burkhart took the Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) Course and passed it with flying colors. "Most people know it as the 6-pack course that allows you to operate a large boat with up to six paying passengers," she explains. "I loved it, and I wanted to learn more."
"Being on the water with my family is where I belong." "We have four grandchildren now and taking them out is a grand adventure for all of us."
And learn more she did. Burkhart took and passed the Towing Endorsement course licensing her to tow another boat. Then she took the Master Mariner licensing course and passed it, too - granting her the distinguished designation of Master Captain. "I was only the fourth or fifth woman the instructor had ever taught," she laughs. "I learned to plot charts like the early explorers did, how to predict weather from cloud formations and what to do in emergency situations. It was tough, and I forgot to eat a few times."
Today, she is licensed to navigate large rivers, the Great Lakes and the Intracoastal Waterways, but she and her husband are quite satisfied taking Lady Bejeje up the Tennessee River. "I admit, going through the river locks is still scary for me - it makes my hands sweat," she says. "But I've learned so much, and I've gained so much confidence from my experiences on the water. If I can do it, I know other women can. I wish more women would try.
"Being on the water with my family is where I belong," she continues. "We have four grandchildren now and taking them out is a grand adventure for all of us. As for my husband - he's the best first mate a woman could ever ask for."
CAN'T KEEP HER MIND OUT OF THE CLOUDS
Chattanooga native Judy Wilson is a woman with immeasurable drive and determination. During her illustrious, 30-year career, she's opened seven hair salons while raising two children. But Wilson has also done something that few women dare to do - she earned a private pilot's license. Indeed, according to Women in Aviation International, only 6 percent of the 600,000 active pilots in the U.S. are females.
"Even when I was a little girl, I wanted to fly," Wilson remembers. "My mom took us to the observation deck at Lovell Field for creative play time, and my siblings and I would watch the airplanes take off and land. At some point, I said, 'I want to fly a plane one day,' and Mom replied immediately, 'Judy, you can do whatever you want to do.'"
Like seeds in fertile soil waiting for rain, her mother's words lay dormant for three decades waiting for the opportunity to sprout. That opportunity came in 1999, when one of Judy's clients revealed her dream of being a pilot. "I lowered my scissors and said,
'Me, too!'" says Wilson. "So the two of us learned together. One morning a week, I'd take my kids to school, then meet my friend at the airport for flying lessons."
Wilson describes those mornings as almost spiritual as she learned to operate an airplane, learned to evaluate herself, and saw Chattanooga from a bird's-eye view as the sun came up and bathed the city in light. In 2003, she got her instrument rating, qualifying her to fly in clouds. "Sure, the training was intense at times, and I got nervous," she recalls. "But I never entertained the idea of stopping."
Wilson remembers learning the crosswind-landing maneuver, a maneuver pilots execute when the prevailing wind blows - sometimes, gusts - perpendicular to the runway center line. "My first crosswind landing was scary," she says. "And I wasn't happy with my landing performance, so I said, 'Please, let me do it again.' And my instructor said, 'Judy, that was a textbook landing - one of the best crosswind landings I've ever seen.'"
"At some point, I said, 'I want to fly a plane one day,' and Mom replied immediately, 'Judy, you can do whatever you want to do.'"
Wilson's two adult children have flown with her several times, although they don't share the aviatrix's desire to actually fly the plane. She flew them to Colorado last year - a feat Wilson is especially proud of.
As she continues to climb the ladder in the aviation world, she lends her time and talents to promoting the art of flying and preserving flight history. She's worked tirelessly in establishing a wartime aviation museum, and Wilson is also writing a book of short stories told to her by wartime pilots. She has recorded 10 stories so far.
"I drove out to Collegedale and interviewed Herman Ernst," she says. "He piloted a P-61 Black Widow during World War II; they flew at night. After we talked, he offered to take me up in his plane, and so we went up and landed at Dallas Bay, which is much like landing on a sidewalk. It was just me, the plane, the sky, and an old flying ace, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world."
WILD WILD HORSES, COULDN'T DRAG HER AWAY
Heidi Maloy grew up on a farm in Loganville, Ga., where her love affair with horses began when she was just five years old. "We had a cow that we raised from a bottle," Maloy recalls.
"I started riding that cow around the farm, and at some point, I told my parents that I didn't want to be a cowgirl any more - I wanted to be a horse girl."
Maloy's parents got her Not Just Peanuts, her first pony. The two developed an immediate and natural bond. "She was a great companion and I loved her," says Maloy. "She died last year. She was 45, and we were together for 25 years."
At 10 years old, her involvement with horses and riding evolved. The courageous showman went from sitting in a saddle to standing to vaulting.
"Vaulting is like gymnastics and ballet on horseback," she explains. "It's like dancing. It's an artistic form of expression set to music where the vaulter interacts with a moving horse and, sometimes, other vaulters."
Vaulting is a performance sport like no other. From high atop the horse's back, Maloy and other vaulting daredevils balance, stand, kneel, leap, perform handstands and tumbling maneuvers, and strike elegant poses as the horse circles at canter pace.
Maloy became a member of the American Vaulting Association at a young age and competed in vaulting events regionally, nationally and internationally, earning a silver medal for her vaulting prowess in 1995. And although equestrian vaulting is not yet an Olympic sport, Maloy was part of a team of 40 gold and silver medal vaulters who demonstrated the sport at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
But vaulting and working around thousand-pound animals can be a hazardous endeavor. At 32, Maloy has broken both of her feet - not once, but twice. "Only two were horse-related accidents," she says. "Vaulting will always be part of my life, but my injuries have made vaulting competitively more difficult for me."
"Vaulting is like gymnastics and ballet on horseback," "It's like dancing. It's an artistic form of expression set to music where the vaulter interacts with a moving horse and, sometimes, other vaulters."
Along with an inborn affinity for working and performing with horses, Maloy possesses a gift for working with children - especially children with special needs. And although she graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in history and horticulture, she's carved out a fulfilling career teaching horseback riding and vaulting to children and adults of all abilities.
Today, Maloy works at the Mystery Dog Ranch in Ringgold where she is a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) certified riding and vaulting instructor. She raves about her vaulting students who range in age from three to 27 years old, and she's an avid advocate for the healing power that working with horses affords some individuals. She's witnessed what some would call miracles.
"I love working with the horses, and I especially love working with children with special needs" she says. "After a few sessions this past year, I saw a child with Fragile X syndrome gain enough core strength to sit up on his own, without assistance. I've seen some pretty amazing things happen."
SHE CAN'T DRIVE 55
Jennifer Dobler grew up around cars. Her father rammed vehicles in demolition derbies and her stepfather raced in the hobby stock circuit, just a few steps below NASCAR. "And maybe that's why I love the smell of race fuel so much," says Dobler. "And I love the smell of burning rubber, too, and the sound of squealing tires - it's music to my ears."
But it wasn't until Mother's Day in 1990 that Dobler made her racing debut - when she actually climbed behind the wheel of a car at an autocross competition in Tullahoma, Tennessee. "My heart was pumping that day," she remembers. "That's when my love of cars and racing became more of an obsession for me."
Autocross is a motorsport where drivers maneuver their cars as quickly as possible through a course outlined with cones. "You press the pedal and go - fast," she says. "Every course presents a different set of challenges and you have to deal with them. You go anywhere from 30 to 40 to 70 miles per hour around curves and obstacles while racing against the clock. The fastest driver wins."
She started racing a Mazda RX-7, a car that allowed her to take the championship in her class. Next, she drove the tires off a Nissan Sentra SE-R earning both worker of the year and member of the year titles. Today, she drives a 1993 Mazda Miata that she and her son, Scotty, built from the ground up. She's won her class in her black Miata, too, along with other titles. And fortunately, Dobler has never had an accident at an autocross event.
And much like runners experience a runner's high, Dobler has reached a euphoric level of consciousness - a state of bliss - while racing her car. She vividly recalls a race at Union Hill Dragstrip. "I did well that day - I went really fast and everything clicked," she says. "During the race, my body was so jittery and excited, but I felt in perfect harmony with my car. It's hard to explain. It was as if I was dancing with my car - like I became one with my car for a few moments."
"Every course presents a different set of challenges and you have to deal with them. You go anywhere from 30 to 40 to 70 miles per hour around curves and obstacles while racing against the clock. The fastest driver wins."
For Dobler and other autocross enthusiasts, the ultimate rush of racing far outweighs any danger associated with maneuvering their cars through twisty, complicated courses. "I've always loved to drive fast, and I've found a safe place to do it," she says.
She notes that autocross events are great venues for getting to know a car's handling capacity and practicing skills and maneuvers that could help drivers respond safely in sudden, emergency situations. And these events are family-friendly. "There's moms, dads and kids at the events, and everyone has a great time," Dobler describes.
"My kids cut their teeth on the asphalt at autocross events, and today, my son is a natural-born racer. The racing bug hasn't bitten my daughter, Briana, yet."
And even though she has a need for speed, Dobler's fanatical about promoting safe driving practices, especially among teens. She is coordinator of the region's Tire Rack Street Survival Teen Driving Program that helps teens gain invaluable experience behind the wheel."Racing is my blood," she says. "And I'm going to keep racing until I'm 80!"