MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Kathleen Hirtz never thought of becoming an aviation pilot until she saw an air show by the U.S. Navy squadron known as the Blue Angels.
"As soon as I saw that, I was like that's what I want to do. I want to fly formation aerobatics in a jet," Kathleen Hirtz said.
It was love at first sight back in 1974. Once the show ended, Hirtz approached one of the pilots.
"I talked to him about becoming a Blue Angel, and he looked at me and says: 'Well, you can't be a Blue Angel, you're a woman. They might let you fly a bomber.' That was the times... so I decided, 'OK, I'll go into medicine,'" Hirtz said.
Her passion for medicine developed as a child when she saw the effect Polio had on her father.
"I grew up seeing somebody that was completely handicapped, severely handicapped--which gave me a real appreciation for the body, how valuable it is, how you only get one," Hirtz said.
She recalled she wanted to become a neurosurgeon and when it was time to apply for a residency program, once again, being a woman was an issue.
"I went in there to meet with the head of neurosurgery and he told me, 'You know, we've never had a woman in our program and we don't intend to change that,'" Hirzt said.
Those words didn't stop her, and she eventually got into a residency program elsewhere, but after two intense years, she said she came to a realization.
"It was great, I was very good at the surgery but it was such a grueling schedule. I decided that, you know, there's a lot of things I want to do in my life," Hirtz said.
At that moment, she decided to open her own general medicine practice so that she could enjoy hobbies like riding horses and competing in Dressage championships--an equestrian sport.
After a few years, her horse got too old to compete. That's when her other passion came back and she decided to get her pilot license. Her determination led her to fly in air shows in Oregon for eight years before moving to Central Florida, where she lives with her husband in a fly-in community in Marion County.
Despite going through some growing pains, the 66-year-old says she never let her circumstances veer her away from her dreams.
"Any opportunity that came my way, I was going to seize upon it and take advantage of it if I could," she said. "I tend to be very passionate about the things I'm interested in. So I have this incredible drive, and I just do it."
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