“Go for your dreams because you never know how they will work out,” Sharon Elliott likes to tell women. She recently achieved her own dream of flying a hot-air balloon.
“For me, flying a hot-air balloon is quite magical,” said Elliott. “It makes my heart sing when I see a balloon in the air. It is almost a spiritual activity for me because it is so quiet.”
“All you have is the sound of the burner, and when the burner is off, it is completely still. When you travel with the wind, you don’t even feel yourself moving. It is really quite amazing.”
Eight years ago, Sharon was looking for spiritual direction in her life and was encouraged to create a vision board based on what would bring her joy.
“The collage had a lot of different pictures on it, but the picture in the middle was one of a hot-air balloon,” said Elliott. “For some reason, hot-air ballooning was part of my joy.”
Elliott pasted the words “The New Pilot” above the hot-air balloon. After creating the vision board, a number of serendipitous events occurred in Sharon’s life, that led her towards becoming a hot-air balloon pilot.
Her first experience in a hot-air balloon was as crew, for a company in Saskatoon. “Each time you crew, you meet the pilots and get to know the pilots,” said Elliott. “You get to know how the balloon operates, and each time you go up, you learn something new about it.”
Every opportunity that Sharon had to crew in a hot-air balloon continued to fuel her passion to pilot one herself.
Two years ago, Sharon had an “urge” to crew for another hot-air balloon pilot, and that connection allowed her to take pilot training in Denver, Colorado. She completed half of her training over two weeks.
Her experience in Denver gave Sharon the confidence that she was strong enough to be a hot-air balloon pilot. “It is physically challenging to be a hot-air balloon pilot.”
As one of three women hot-air balloon pilots in the province, Sharon is hoping to inspire other women to follow their dreams.
Elliott already had an opportunity to inspire a young student from Unity, who had researched the sport of hot-air ballooning for a school project. When the project was displayed at the school, Sharon traveled to Unity to surprise the young student.
“She was ecstatic, and really saw me as a role model. It not only made her day, but it also made mine,” said Elliott.
It was in Unity that Sharon met another hot-air balloon pilot, who had piloted for over 38 years and was considered a master of the sport. In Taber, Alta., Sharon took ground school lessons, had air time and also completed an exam to finally get her hot-air balloon license.
Sharon needs a big space to launch the balloon. Her balloon is mid-size, and has 77,000 cubic feet of volume. The basket of the hot-air balloon is wicker, which is the traditional type, and can hold up to three people (including herself as the pilot).
Right now, Sharon flies solo, but she also depends on a ground crew of five people to help her prepare the balloon for flight each time she goes up.
As a hot-air balloonist, Sharon is totally dependent on the weather conditions. She has an extensive checklist for flights, to ensure her safety.
“You never know where you will land because you travel with the wind,” she said.
“It is possible to achieve your dreams. You cannot plan your dreams, but you just have to trust and keep following it. This is a whole new adventure for me.”