Helping dreams to take flight

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The Air Force told Tamara Senz she was simply too short to fly planes.

By a quarter of an inch.

"I thought, 'Maybe if I don't give up, if I don't take no for an answer, maybe I can do something,'" Senz recalls.

It was the phone calls to congressmen and congresswomen, to senators and the press - not the inversion gravity boots she used, an ill-fated attempt to get a little taller - that finally got Senz a chance to fly jets for the U.S. Navy and to fulfill the young woman's dream.

That same theme - breaking gender-based barriers to simply be able to fly as the men do, thanks to hard work and help from others - echoed throughout at the Women In Networks luncheon at Sequim High School on Dec. 16.

Senz joined a panel of three local female pilots who faced plenty of barriers in their flying careers.

Susan Strand, one of the first women to be trained by the military as a helicopter pilot and the first female U.S. air safety investigator, eventually became a national park ranger.

"I knew all eyes were on me," Strand told a packed library full of young female Sequim High students.

"If you love what you are doing, you're bound to be a success."

She reminded the young women that she needed help, from men and women, to make her dreams possible.

Strand said she doesn't fly anymore but that she does lecture when asked. She's also tried to write a book about her experiences.

"I've tried but I'm not much of a writer," she said.'

Summer Martell, a commercial pilot and flight instructor who had her pilot's license before she had her driver's license, grew up in the Port Townsend area and helped her father do "barnstorming" trips up and down the West Coast, flying into towns and offering $20 rides in an antique biplane.

Martell said her father died when she was about 17 years old and the Port Townsend flying community helped fund flight time and flying instruction for her pilot's license.

After that, Martell became a flight instructor, then developed her own flight school where she taught aerobatics. She also had a role as actor Janine Turner's pilot body double in the television show "Northern Exposure."

Martell, a guest speaker for the first Women In Networks event 13 years ago, now flies a corporate jet out of Portland.

"It was fun getting here," Martell said. "I never thought, 'I can't do it.'"

Though she struggled to keep it, Martell has held on to the biplane, one of just three of its kind.
She urged the young students to live out their dreams.

"Decide on something, declare it and go out there and make it happen," Martell told them.

Mitzi Sanders, career counselor at the high school and Women In Networks coordinator, said she likes this kind of event because it encourages students to think outside of their own small town and gets them thinking about different kinds of careers.

"Girls in this rural area aren't exposed to these (professionals)," Sanders said. "I hear feedback for weeks after one of these. It plants a seed."

Sequim High School student Margaret Norlund said she was impressed.

"I thought it was very inspiring to hear these women's experiences," she said.

Norlund said this, like other Women In Networks events, was fun and educational.

"These women are open-hearted to us and let us know we can do anything," Norlund said.

Senz, who now flies for FedEx, said she likes speaking at these events for the same reason.

"(I like) being able to share with them (that with) hard work, belief in yourself, you can make it a long way," Senz said.

Reach Michael Dashiell at

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