TAMPA, Florida. >> Growing up, Christina Wood never considered becoming a pilot. It was the 1960s – her brothers were in college, her sisters in nursing school.
She became a photographer instead, like her great-grandfather. But the subjects of her work appealed to her most – the glittering fighter planes making their debut during the First World War.
Throughout adulthood and the quiet times of parenting her only daughter, she yearned to take flight.
At 47, she became a flight attendant.
“You know when you like something right away? I read the training manual over and over again. It was like I would do it for free,” she recalls.
It appeased some of his desire. But she dreamed of the days when passengers could feel the air on their faces as they zoomed through the sky, and she wondered what it would be like to travel in the latest fashionable planes during her father’s service for the Second World War.
Earlier this month, she got her chance.
Wood, now 74, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer last July. Doctors told him he had six months to live.
Almost a year later, she stood on the tarmac at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, donning Amelia Earhart leather boots and a crisp ivory scarf, in front of a World War II biplane. A friend complimented her sharp appearance.
“I just wish I had hair for that,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Wood was chosen to receive help from My Jump!, a nonprofit that helps seniors fill out items on their bucket lists, with a particular focus on low-income seniors.
A group of friends were waiting to see Wood take off, holding signs that read “We love you” and “Hold on to your a-!”
A pilot from his tenure at American Airlines, Bill Norris, 66, was among them.
“It won’t scare me after flying with you!” she joked with a small laugh.
Supported by her daughter’s boyfriend and retaining her sense of humor, Wood boarded the old plane’s deep seats like a pro. A pilot took place behind her.
The propellers started. Wood grabs his head with both hands in reflex, allowing himself a moment of genuine arousal.
She left the ground, the plane rocking cautiously up and down before leveling off in its climb, as onlookers hugged her daughter Heidi Stubbs, who wiped her eyes.
“Flying was always the thing that made his heart shine,” Stubbs said. “I’m so glad she feels good enough to come.”
In the air, the pilot surprised Wood. He handed control over to her, switching the control to the front seat where she was sitting. For 10 minutes she flew, spinning above the waters of the beaches and returning to downtown St. Petersburg.
It was exactly as she had suspected. Easy. Natural. Like coming home.
“I thought, ‘I could have done that,'” Wood said. “But everything happens in the timing and the way it’s supposed to happen. This is something that this diagnosis taught me.
“I would change it if I could,” she added. “But whoever is in control of the universe, you just have to understand that it’s happening as it should be.”